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Athens has designated Turkey a “safe third country”

The EU is attempting to clear a legal path for Greece to routinely send asylum seekers back to Turkey, in a move that would dismay Ankara and endanger a €3bn action plan to stem migration flows.

The European Commission has asked member states to consider labelling countries with functional asylum systems on the bloc’s edge as “safe third countries”, allowing the speedy deportation of asylum seekers who travelled through them.

The proposal has been met with frustration in Ankara, which says existing rules prevent Greece from returning genuine refugees. There is concern among Turkish officials that the commission’s communication implies anyone who passed through Turkey could be returned there.

The Turkish response to the Dutch-led plan for direct resettlement and the likely minimal impact of the proposals from Brussels highlighted both the poverty and confusion of the EU policy responses to the crisis and its desperation in the quest for answers.

“Forget it,” said Selim Yenel, Turkey’s ambassador to the EU. “It’s unacceptable. And it’s not feasible.”

As part of the push to increase deportations of asylum seekers from Europe, Athens has designated Turkey a “safe third country”, despite doubts over the practicality and legality of such a scheme.

EU officials have repeatedly called on Ankara to willingly take back asylum seekers who have travelled through Turkey to reach Europe. In exchange, the EU would open a massive resettlement programme of roughly 250,000 refugees a year, according to the “Samsom plan” — after Diederik Samsom, the Dutch politician who first floated the idea publicly last month.

Although Hungary has a similar policy on its border with Serbia, the bulk of EU countries do not allow deportations to “safe third countries”, instead only sending people back to their country of origin.

Budapest’s move at first attracted sharp criticism, but has since become viewed as a valid response as the continent’s refugee crisis showed little sign of abating.

Brussels and member states have turned to increasingly hardline policies in their attempts to deal with the 1m refugees who have arrived in Europe since the start of 2015.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner in charge of migration policy, said it was time to bring Greece back into the EU’s Dublin system, although he added that “migratory pressures” on Greece needed to be taken into account “not to put more burden” on the country.

Although the commission warned that Greece had more to do, the commissioner hailed “spectacular” improvements in entry checks on refugees. The proportion of refugees in Greece being fingerprinted and included on an EU database rose to 78% in January, up from 8% in September 2015. In Italy the numbers hit 87% from 36% over the same period.

But Mr Avramopoulos criticised member states for not doing enough on the EU’s flagship refugees relocation scheme, which has resulted in just under 500 people being moved from Greece and Italy to other EU countries in five months. The original scheme aimed to move 160,000 within two years.

EU leaders will discuss Europe’s response to the refugee crisis at a summit on 18-19 February, but are not expected to take decisions.
The leaders are likely to complain that Turkey is not doing enough to control the numbers of refugees arriving in Greece.
Avramopoulos said he hoped EU “hotspots” – special centres for registering migrants in Greece and Italy – would be up and running in 10 days’ time.

He reiterated a promise to publish proposals in March to reform the EU’s Dublin migration and asylum rules. The system was effectively finished last summer when the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, threw open Germany’s borders to Syrian refugees.

source: FT, The Guardian