Sunday 22 April 2018

Turkey deal sparks fears of scramble by refugees

Migrants arrive in Kos, Greece, in a rubber dinghy. Photo: PA
Migrants arrive in Kos, Greece, in a rubber dinghy. Photo: PA

Matthew Holehouse in Brussels

Migrants have been given a 24-hour deadline to reach Europe as leaders announced that anyone landing in Greece after midnight tonight would be swiftly deported.

A deadly scramble for the last boats over the Aegean to the Greek islands began after a €6bn aid-for-deportations deal with Turkey was agreed at a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels.

Turkish police yesterday intercepted 3,000 migrants attempting to cross on land and sea in a major operation involving coast guard and helicopters, as Ankara at last showed a willingness to halt the human tide.

From tomorrow morning, any asylum seeker who lands on the islands including Kos, Lesbos and Chios will no longer be able to catch ferries to Athens, but will be swiftly interviewed by asylum officials or judges at new detention camps.

Greek and EU authorities will have to build a functioning asylum system within less than 48 hours. Thousands of extra staff - judges, case officers, border guards and translators - will need to be sent to the Greek islands to ensure claims can be processed.

From April 4, deportations to Turkey will begin with leaders hoping that the process will take no more than days. Those that appeal against their removal will be brought before Greek judges in rapid-fire court hearings, under an operation costing €20m a month and involving 4,000 staff.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain will send further asylum experts and interpreters to join the task force. RFA Mounts Bay and Border Force cutters are already patrolling the Aegean.

"Britain will help. We have the expertise, we have skilled officials," he said. "Today I've said that we stand ready to do more. What we are doing here really is trying to create a harder border between Greece and Turkey, and in the end this benefits Britain."

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, said: "This is a herculean task facing us. It is the largest challenge the European Commission has yet faced."

Experts say the plan risks violating international law because Turkey is not a signatory to the Geneva Convention which guarantees basic standards for asylum seekers who are sent to other countries. Turkey currently deports hopeful asylum seekers back to the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, which is forbidden in EU law.

"The deal is in accordance with the law, there can be no doubt about that," insisted Mr Juncker.

Donald Tusk, the European Council president, said it was a "breakthrough".

Irish Independent

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