With scenes of Greek aid workers carrying out an emergency operation to evacuate 1,400 migrants from a dangerously overcrowded camp in the wake of the arrival of new refugees on the North Aegean island of Lesbos, the European Union said it was deeply concerned by the recent developments but remains committed to the implementation of an agreement with Turkey on migration.
Lesbos, which is close to Turkey’s Aegean coast, saw a major uptick in the number of migrants landed on its shores with 3,000 new arrivals in August, including around 650 one day last week
More than 11,000 migrants are already being held in a detention facility known as “Moria” on Lesbos. It had originally been built to accommodate 3,000 refugees during the height of the migrant crisis in 2015.
The migrants removed from Moria on Monday will be taken by ferry to Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, where they will be transported to Nea Kavala, a small camp in northern Greece near the border with North Macedonia.
Nearly 1,900 illegal migrants have been returned to Turkey under a deal brokered by the European Union in 2016, and 17,000 migrants have voluntarily been repatriated from Greece to their home countries over the course of the last three years.
The Greek government aims to cancel the appeal process for asylum seekers to facilitate their swift return to Turkey and Athens has now said that it will step up border patrols with the help of the EU border control agency, Frontex.
In March 2016, the EU and Turkey signed a deal that was intended to limit the influx of migrants from entering the European Union from Turkey. A central aspect of the deal is the return to Turkey of any migrant who is found to have entered the EU without having already undergone a formal asylum application process. Those that had bypassed the asylum process in Turkey would be returned and placed at the end of the application line.
Brussels remarked that it remains committed to the agreement with Turkey, saying that the EU “can continue to work in good faith” with Ankara. The Commission also reiterated that the transfers of migrants from Moria and other islands to the Greek mainland will be an ongoing process and said that according to the EU-Turkey agreement, returning illegal migrants to Turkey can take place only from the Greek islands.