Greece to deport 10,000 refugees to Turkey in wake of fatal camp blaze

A migrant sleeps outside at the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, on September 30, 2019, following a fire at the refugee camp which houses some 13,000 people. (AFP)
Updated 03 October 2019

Greece to deport 10,000 refugees to Turkey in wake of fatal camp blaze

  • The Moria refugee camp was already operating beyond its capacity and under deteriorating conditions before the fire took hold
  • It is considered to be Europe’s most crowded site, housing more than 13,000 refugees when designed to take just 3,000

ANKARA: Greece has decided to deport 10,000 refugees to Turkey by the end of next year in the wake of a deadly fire at an overcrowded camp on the island of Lesbos.
Following criticisms after Sunday’s blaze, which left one woman dead and 17 people injured two of them children, the Greek Cabinet held a four-hour emergency meeting when the decision was made.
The Moria refugee camp was already operating beyond its capacity and under deteriorating conditions before the fire took hold. It is considered to be Europe’s most crowded site, housing more than 13,000 refugees when designed to take just 3,000.
Lesbos has become one of the main destinations for refugees in recent years with around 10,000 new arrivals on the island over the last three months alone, according to the Greek government.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a conservative politician, is known for his hard-line approach to his country’s migrant crisis.
An agreement signed between Turkey and the EU in 2016, allowed Athens to send back illegal immigrants to its neighbor, Turkey, which has in return received financial assistance from Brussels.
Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, director of the Center for International and European Studies (CIES) at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, said that as opposed to 2015 and 2016, most of those now trying to reach the Greek islands were not from Syria but Afghanistan and elsewhere.
“As a result, the Greek government is stressing a distinction between refugees, those seeking asylum status, and irregular migrants. The latter category in particular consists of individuals not in need of international protection, who are not Syrian, which Greece intends to speed up efforts to return to Turkey as per the EU-Turkey refugee deal,” he told Arab News.
“Because of the inability to rapidly process all applications, only about 1,800 have been returned to Turkey from Greece since 2016.”
According to Triantaphyllou, although Greece had established structures and processes to deal with the spike in the number of refugees, asylum seekers, and illegal migrants since 2015, its problems had been compounded by the 200 percent rise in arrivals over the last five months.
“Some islands are unable to cope with the increased inflows with tremendous pressure on the ability of the local communities showing empathy,” he added.
For this reason, Triantaphyllou said, Greece was trying to internationalize the issue in order to allow for the development of a more targeted policy on the part of the EU, while Greek authorities were aware that the refugee flows were part of a larger power play between Ankara and the EU.
Athens is also planning to increase naval patrols in the Aegean Sea and build camps specifically for “illegal” immigrants and those refused asylum.
EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos is expected to visit Greece and Turkey this week, accompanied by German and French interior ministers, to discuss the refugee crisis.
Last month, the German government also called on Greece to deport migrants to Turkey.
Omar Kadkoy, a Syrian-origin researcher on refugee integration at Ankara-based think tank TEPAV, said Turkey must ensure the EU acted upon the promises made under the 2016 agreement.
“The statement clearly says that for every Syrian returned from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU. This should be the protocol governing Greece’s new announcement. It is true that the number of Syrians resettled to the EU exceeds the ones returned from Greece, but the number represents only one-third of what the statement indicates,” he told Arab News.
Kadkoy added that Turkey should also use the new announcement as a wake-up call for the so-called “coalition of the willing,” which had so far failed to establish a feasible responsibility-sharing mechanism among EU member states.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said one of the reasons for an increased flow of refugees to Greece was their fear of being forced back to Syria.
“Turkey’s government shouldn’t be sending anyone back to Syria. It is not the least bit safe,” he told Arab News. “In the meantime, other European nations should accept more refugees so the responsibility for processing and housing them does not rest solely with Greece, which is just emerging from its economic crisis.”
Roth also noted that the Dublin rules, which state that responsibility for processing and housing asylum seekers rests solely with the country where they land, were wrong and should be abolished.
“Just as European governments have begun to share that responsibility for asylum seekers arriving from Libya to Italy, so they should share the responsibility for those arriving from Turkey to Greece,” he said.


Asylum-seeking Iranian beauty queen still in custody at Manila airport

Updated 26 sec ago

Asylum-seeking Iranian beauty queen still in custody at Manila airport

  • Bahari said authorities in the Philippines were keeping her in the dark about the status of her asylum case
  • She has consistently said the assault and battery case against her is fake, and Tehran was targeting her for supporting an opposition politician

MANILA: An Iranian beauty queen seeking asylum in the Philippines remains incarcerated at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport almost a week after she was barred from entering the southeast Asian country due to an Interpol red notice.
Bahareh Zare Bahari, Iran’s representative to the 2018 Miss Intercontinental pageant, was arrested at the airport last Thursday following a charge against her for an assault and battery case allegedly committed in Dagupan City in the Philippines. Bahari denies any wrongdoing. 
Speaking to Arab News by telephone on Wednesday, Bahari said authorities in the Philippines were keeping her in the dark about the status of her asylum case.
“Filipino authorities are not updating me. They said they sent a letter to Interpol in Iran to get an answer from them. So they told me I have to wait until Iran Interpol answers,” she said. 
Bahari also said she was not feeling well and had been examined by a doctor at the airport on Tuesday. She did not provide details of her ailment.
Bahari has consistently said the assault and battery case against her is fake, and Tehran was targeting her for supporting an opposition politician and violating traditional values by taking part in beauty pageants and speaking for women’s rights.
In January, she appeared at a pageant carrying a picture of Reza Pahlavi, an Iranian opposition leader and founder of the National Council of Iran.
“I have used his photo in a beauty pageant and the Iranian government are angry with me,” Bahari said, adding: “If I am deported to Iran, they will give me at least 25 years in jail, if they do not kill me.”
Tehran has not commented on Bahari’s statements. 
Bahari said last week that she had traveled to the Philippines after a vacation in Dubai, where she did not encounter any problems with immigration authorities, adding that she was surprised when she was intercepted at the airport in Manila and informed that she was on an Interpol list.
Bahari said her lawyer “had checked all records in the Philippines and with Interpol,” but there was no record against her.
The beauty queen has denied committing any crimes in Iran, or in the Philippines where she has been studying dentistry since 2014.
The Philippines Department of Justice (DoJ) Undersecretary and spokesperson Mark Perete said in a statement last week that Bahari remained in custody at the airport and “could not be sent back to Iran because she has filed an application for asylum.”
The DoJ would resolve her asylum application “in due time,” Perete added.