Europe won’t be able to implement its new refugee deal with Turkey in time, as Greece is set to blow past a Monday deadline. The Times of London reports:
Greece has unofficially pushed back the start of the mass returns of migrants to Turkey after both sides failed to put in place systems to carry it out.
There was shock among Greek officials after the European Commission said yesterday that it expected the first 500 returns — of Syrians who had not requested asylum, Afghans and Pakistanis — to go ahead on Monday.
The controversial scheme designed to stem the surge of asylum seekers across the Aegean is instead likely to start with a symbolic gesture of only a handful of people being repatriated to Turkey, officials in Athens said.
Tensions are running high among thousands of migrants being held on five Greek islands and at the port of Piraeus near Athens, some of whom are in line to be returned. More than 50,000 migrants have found themselves trapped in Greece by border closures along the Balkan route into western Europe.
The Greek delays appear to be about more than Greek civil service failures, however. Promised help from Europe has not materialized in time:
The Greek authorities said that they were expecting dozens of officers and high-speed vessels from Frontex, the EU border agency, to arrive by the weekend to help to take the migrants to Turkey.
Yet for any returns to take place, a functioning asylum system must be in place to process every migrant’s claim, which aid workers and officials conceded was far from the case on the Greek islands.
The refugee scheme was always going to be tricky to make work, given how long the Turkish and Greek coastlines are, the Turkish lack of full control of its land border with Syria, and the inefficiency of the Greek state. But if it continues to be “implemented” like this, what deterrent value it should be carrying could be totally vitiated.
This is an building-on-fire crisis for Europe, with Greece and several other countries stretched to the limits of their capacity and European political order in serious jeopardy. The fact that Greece hasn’t been absolutely flooded with assistance from its European neighbors is sadly both outrageous and typical. It bodes poorly for the European ability to contain this crisis going forward.