Secretary of State Greece: ‘EU must pressurize Turkey to take back migrants’

The situation is getting worse for refugees in Greece. There is already a lot of criticism of the Greek government for illegally sending migrants back, but more is going on. The whole Greek migration policy seems to be hardening. The situation on the islands has not yet been resolved and many problems have shifted to the mainland. The Greek Secretary of State for Migration and Integration says Europe‘s solution must come: โ€œWe cannot afford it.โ€

In Athens alone, many people with refugee status roam on the streets who need acute help. โ€œOur situation is very bad,โ€ says a man who stands out in Athens with his wife and twins of a year old. โ€œWe’re having trouble finding shelter. Previously, the migration service provided us with shelter. But now we are responsible for finding a place to sleep.โ€

When people receive a residence permit after years of waiting, all financial support stops four weeks later and will be left to their destiny. โ€œNow that we have our papers, we don‘t get any help from the government. No home and no money,โ€ says an Afghan woman. She received a residence permit with her family. Her husband now works as a lumberjack and earns 20 euros a day. โ€œWe pay 150 euros ourselves for a dump, but we have to.โ€

To Germany or the Netherlands but not back

The worse the situation, the more migrants want to leave Greece. With official refugee status, people can fly to Germany or the Netherlands, for example, and stay there for 90 days. Because of the bad conditions in Greece, they cannot be returned from Western Europe, as has been determined by many European judges.

The Greek government seems to be tacitly approving that it doesn’t suit them at least. But the Secretary of State for Migration and Integration, Sofia Voultepsi, thinks that nonsense. โ€œGreece adheres to all treaties. That they are allowed to leave our country for 90 days is simply in the law,โ€ she says. โ€œWhat do you want us to do about it?โ€

Migrants through Turkey are denied

The Greek government went one step further with the hard approach last month. Through a ministerial decision, Turkey has identified as a safe country for most asylum seekers from there, by sea and land. This means that asylum applications from migrants from Syria and Afghanistan, among others, are rejected and they should return to Turkey.

According to attorney Minos Mouzourakis, that is an unlawful decision in violation of European laws, and moreover. โ€œThere is no guarantee that Turkey will allow these people again when they are returned and that is a prerequisite. As a result, many migrants are now floating in a kind of ‘limbo’: they cannot apply for asylum in Greece, but they cannot return to Turkey either.โ€

There is

also a lot of turmoil about the new policy in the Ritsona camp, near Athens. Many people who have arrived in Greece in recent years can no longer receive asylum. 17-year-old writer Parwana Amiri from Afghanistan tells how a wall is being built around her camp. She‘s afraid she’ll be able to go out for a few hours a day later:

Secretary of State Voultepsi knows that Turkey has been refusing to take back migrants from Greece for a year, but she believes that this is not Greece‘s problem. โ€œThe European Union must put pressure on Turkey to comply with the agreement to take people back. Europe needs to think about what needs to happen to the people who can’t go anywhere right now,โ€ she says. โ€œThis country has so many problems, we can‘t afford it.โ€

Migration ministers from Western Europe, including the Netherlands and Germany, call on the European Commission to safeguard the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in Greece. People can not be sent back to Greece until conditions improve. Then courts won’t be able to stop that anymore.