Istanbul, Athens, Berlin They came at dawn. From the haze inflated black inflatable boats on Lesbos last Friday, a total of 408 people were on board. The Aegean Sea off the coast of Turkey is the main destination for refugees who want to travel across the Mediterranean to Greece and thus to the European Union.
Actually, the crossings should not exist anymore. In the refugee agreement with the EU, Ankara committed itself in March 2016 to preventing “irregular migration”. That worked well for a long time. Now the numbers are rising again.
The Greek islands have already reached 50 percent more people seeking protection this year than in 2018. In August and September, the crowd has even doubled compared to the previous year. Just last week, 3,000 people came from Turkey.
The reception center Moria on Lesbos, whose accommodation and sanitary facilities are designed for 3,000 people, now houses more than 12,000 people. Because the facilities are long overcrowded, the newcomers look for a place to stay in the olive groves. In the coming winter threatens a humanitarian disaster here. The processing of asylum applications can take years. There are currently around 67,000 asylum applications pending throughout Greece.
The authorities can handle only 2400 cases per month. So many new applications were made in the past week alone. If you arrive on Lesbos, you have to wait until February 2021 before your application is processed. The deputy minister for migration policy, Giorgos Koumoutsakos, expects further increases in the number of refugees: “Thousands of migrants have gathered in and around the Turkish port city of Izmir and want to translate.”
Crisis meeting in Greece
On Saturday, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called the ministers responsible for a crisis meeting in the Villa Maximos, his official residence. Mitsotakis wants to speed up the asylum procedure. As an immediate measure, the government now wants to reinforce the patrols in the Aegean Sea.
But the maritime border can only secure Turkey. She has also committed herself to this in the Refugee Pact. She would have to stop the boats before they even drop or send back, as long as they move in Turkish territorial waters. Once the boats reach Greek waters, Greece must let those seeking protection land under international law.
The Turkish Coast Guard has reportedly since the beginning of the year in the Aegean 991 boats with 34,148 inmates and prevented the crossing. In Greece, however, it is believed that there are indications that the Turkish authorities are now letting traffickers freer hands. Otherwise it can not be explained that on some days the refugee boats come in veritable convoys over the Aegean Sea, it is said in Athenian government circles.
That would be in line with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's threats. Erdogan warns of “a new migration threat” from the contested Syrian rebel stronghold Idlib. That could not shoulder Turkey alone. Toward Europe, Erdogan made it clear: “Either you share this burden, or we must open the gates.”
Turkey has received so many refugees from the Syria war as no other country. As pressure increases in Idlib, the country may be forced to resort to hundreds of thousands of other Syrians. And that while the mood in the Turkish population has long since fallen.
Pressure on the governing party
In the face of economic problems, in local elections in March, opposition parties have increased pressure on the government's refugee policy. Since then, the tone has changed in the AKP. Interior Minister Suleiman Soylu offered voluntary repatriations in August. In addition, more and more migrants from Afghanistan would be deported. It is therefore hardly surprising that among the newcomers to Greek islands, especially Afghans and Iraqis can be found.
At least the Turkish government can celebrate a small diplomatic success. Ankara has changed the terms of the second installment of the Refugee Pact to its own advantage. The Turkish state will receive more money from Brussels.
According to official figures, two-thirds of the total budget was spent on UN distribution of the first three billion euros from the Refugee Pact. 660 million euros went directly to Ankara to hire additional doctors, teachers and social workers. In the second tranche (also three billion euros) are already scheduled 875 million euros for the Turkish government, according to research by the Handelsblatt.
An EU spokesperson confirmed the payments to Ankara. In awarding further funds from the pact, the UN organizations play a much smaller role than before. One of the largest single orders of 860 million euros could go to the International Red Cross (IFRC). One of the vice presidents of the umbrella organization is Kerem Kinik. He is the head of the Red Crescent, the Turkish national organization of the IFRC.
This would mean that around 1.7 billion euros would fall from the second tranche under direct or indirect control of Turkey. An EU spokesperson emphasized that direct support for Turkish ministries would prevent the development of parallel societies. “The implementation of our aid follows the strict requirements of EU financial rules. We control that the use of funds has a direct impact on the situation of local people, “he said.
Governments of EU members worried
Meanwhile, EU member governments are worried about the scale of recent refugee flows. On Monday, Malta will welcome the Home Affairs Ministers of Germany, France, Italy, representatives of the Finnish EU Presidency and the European Commission. At the beginning of October, Horst Seehofer wants to travel to Athens and Ankara. Experts from the Federal Ministry of the Interior have already begun to develop a “catalog of measures”. This should include suggestions on how Germany could help to prevent a renewed escalation of the refugee crisis.
Some cooperations between Berlin and Athens are already underway: The Federal Police advises Greek officials at airports. The Federal Office for Migration supports the European asylum agency on Greek islands. “This can certainly be expanded,” it says from the Ministry of the Interior in Berlin.
More: Turkey is undergoing changes to the refugee agreement: the second tranche of aid will channel a larger share to Turkish ministries and aid organizations.
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