The cross : How to understand this call for help from Athens to Brussels?
Virginie Guiraudon: The letter from the Greek government comes to record a blockage that has existed since March 2020: the agreement between the European Union and Turkey of March 18, 2016 is no longer applied. In principle, it implies that in exchange for significant financial resources (6 billion euros in four years), Ankara takes care of rejected asylum seekers in Greece. The balance of power is to Turkey’s advantage, while the EU is banking everything on the good cooperation of its neighbor. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plays it.
For its part, Greece has done everything to be a good student in the eyes of Brussels: it has reduced from 40,000 to 17,000 the number of migrants stuck on its islands. In power since July 2019, the government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis has increased border controls. A stricter asylum law has been adopted. But for the rest, Athens stresses that it no longer depends on it and relies on European diplomacy.
→ EXPLANATION. Greece strongly suspected of pushing back migrants
However, Ankara refuses to receive 1,500 migrants refused asylum rights by the Greek authorities. Indeed, Turkey, where 3.6 million mostly Syrian refugees live, accuses the EU of not having fulfilled all of its obligations mentioned in the 2016 agreement, in particular those on customs and visa issues.
What kind of help can the European Commission and Frontex provide?
VG: This is not the first time Greece has called on the EU for help. Financial resources could be strengthened to support it. The EU’s multiannual financial framework for 2021-2027 has already been sealed since December, but it is possible to find room for maneuver.
An additional envelope would, however, be difficult to justify at this time, as arrivals in Greece have fallen considerably. Due to restrictions related to Covid-19, arrivals through the eastern Mediterranean fell by three quarters in 2020 to around 20,000 for the year. A carry-over effect has taken place towards the Canaries.
Athens skillfully addresses its mail to Frontex, whose budget has grown steadily over the years: 6 million euros in 2005, 142 million in 2015, 460 million euros in 2020 … The European border and coast guard agency, which targets 10,000 agents against 1,200 today, has been carrying out its first recruitments since the beginning of January under its own uniform, whereas so far the staff were made available by Member States. Frontex is playing an increasingly important role in returns, but the agency is accused of carrying out illegal refoulements.
What can Greece expect from the future migration pact proposed by the European Commission in the autumn?
VG: The migration pact as it exists provides that in the event of“Massive arrival” in a country of first reception like Greece, the voluntary Member States offer to take care of asylum seekers on their soil, while those who refuse must finance the returns of the rejected. If the rejected applicants are not effectively returned after eight months – including the appeal procedure – then the country which sponsored the removal must welcome the migrant. However, countries like Poland or Hungary are far from having accepted such conditions.
The Greek letter sent to Brussels comes in the wake of the German presidency of the EU, without Berlin having made any progress on the subject. Yet it was indeed Germany which was in the process of forging the EU-Turkey agreement in 2016. The call from Athens is therefore a signal sent to the Portuguese presidency which is beginning, so that European migration policies are not no new set aside for lack of consensus.