Germany has decided to start returning newly arrived asylum seekers to Greece, effectively reversing a five-year suspension of the European Union’s Dublin rules that require refugees to apply for asylum in the first EU member state they enter.

The Dublin rules were suspended in 2011 owing to the poor conditions in Greece.

In an interview with the Agence France-Presse (AFP), German interior ministry spokesman, Tobias Plate, said Germany would reinstate the Dublin rules in March and return newly-arrived asylum seekers to their first EU port of call.

“In line with the recommendation from the European Commission, Germany believes that such transfers will be possible from March 15,” said Plate.

As reported by Al Jazeera, Greece has criticised the EU’s assessment. Greek Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas argues the current legal framework was “unable to respond to the historic migration flows and leaves the burden to the member states that migrants first arrive in”.

Some 62,000 refugees and migrants have been stranded in Greece after a series of border closures further north early last year and the subsequent controversial deal between the EU and Turkey to stem flows.

In recent days, refugees in camps across mainland Greece and Greek islands have struggled as temperatures have sunk as low as minus 18 degrees.

“While thousands of asylum seekers are exposed to bitterly cold conditions and some may freeze to death, politicians are cynically whitewashing the situation in Greece,” said Pro Asyl, the German refugee relief group, raising concerns about Berlin’s decision to start returning asylum seekers.

“Instead of enforcing Dublin-deportations, it is of crucial importance to comprehensively investigate the abject failure of the system of housing asylum seekers in Greece and to house refugees in humane conditions without delay. Human rights organisations have been working for months to get refugees out of tents and miserable camps.”