The number of migrants who have been sent back from Greece to Turkey is far lower than planned, sparking new fears the controversial European Union (EU)-Turkey deal could be close to collapse.
Since the deal was reached on 20 March, around 8,500 people have arrived on Greek islands yet fewer than 400 of them have been returned to Turkey. If then trend continues, the islands could find themselves overwhelmed when summer comes and the rate of migration increases.
The Financial Times reports that the reason for the small number of returns appears to be the Greeks themselves, who have approved 30 per cent of the 600 asylum applications they have received since 20 March, a significantly higher number than expected.
Greek officials have defended their decision, with asylum chief Maria Stavropoulou claiming: “We fully understand the [EU] concerns but if you look at it from the perspective of the rule of law, it is going exactly as it should.
“We have many vulnerable people on the islands … a lot of very sick people. By law they are exempt from the return process.”
However, the European Commission expected nearly all the migrants would be returned in a matter of weeks in order to send a strong message to would-be immigrants not to make the journey across the Mediterranean.
Greece’s failure to fully implement the deal could be another nail in the coffin of the EU-Turkey agreements, in which Turkey agreed to take back migrants who land in Greece in exchange for Europe taking in someone from a refugee camp on the Syrian border. The EU also promised Turkey three billion euros in aid money as well as visa-free access for Turkish citizens to Europe.
Breitbart London reported last week how EU officials are plotting a migration ‘Plan B’ without Turkey in the event the deal falls apart. The new plan would see the three billion euro aid money redirected to Greece to help it build infrastructure to cope with the migrant crisis, with ferry services suspended between the islands and the mainland.
Tensions between with EU and Turkey continue to rise, especially as concerns grow as to the direction President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is taking his nominally secular country. Ahmet Davutoglu, one of the plan’s key backers, resigned earlier this month, while President Erdogan refuses to reform his country’s terror laws.