Greece says Turkey should take back migrants to uphold EU deal

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Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi has called on Turkey to take back 1,450 migrants to demonstrate “willingness to cooperate” with the EU on a 2016 deal stemming would-be refugee flows, Agence France-Presse reported.

“We have proposed to Turkey to restart [the] returns of those not entitled to protection,” Mitarachi told AFP in an interview.

“I think it’s a very good opportunity for Turkey to demonstrate their willingness to cooperate with the EU and uphold the joint statement,” the minister said.

The accord — criticized by rights groups and since seen as inadequate by Ankara — foresaw the payment of 6 billion euros to Turkey to keep asylum seekers from crossing to Bulgaria and Greece.

According to the European Commission, 4.1 billion euros ($4.8 billion) have already been delivered to Turkey, and the remaining 2 billion have been contracted to projects to support refugees.

But Ankara disputes the EU figures, claiming that only 3.6 billion euros have been spent on Syrians, and stressing that Turkey has 3.7 million of them on its soil.

“We believe the proper implementation of the 2016 joint statement between the EU and Turkey is very important for both the EU and Turkey,” Mitarachi said.

“Turkey has undertaken certain responsibilities under the statement, the EU has done the same, both parts need to fulfil these obligations,” the minister said.

Since the accord, the number of migrants and refugees arriving in Greece has fallen sharply.

In 2015, at the height of the crisis, 856,000 crossed the Aegean Sea. This figure dropped to 173,000 the next year, and to only 30,000 in 2017.

In 2020, likely because of the coronavirus pandemic, just 10,000 crossed.

“The figures are there,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Monday. “It has been very much criticized, but this statement has produced tangible results.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has threatened to cancel the arrangement several times, wants progress on Ankara’s moribund application to join the EU, as well as talks on getting Turks visa-free travel and on the EU customs union.

Ankara also wants Brussels to cooperate with Turkey inside northern Syria to prepare the way for refugees to return to their war-torn homeland.

EU member states will discuss ties with Turkey at their next summit on March 25 and 26.

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