Some of the first people to be deported from Greece under the terms of the EU-Turkey migration deal may not have been given the chance to claim for asylum, the UN refugee agency has said.
Police “forgot” to process the asylum claims of 13 of the 202 asylum seekers sent back to Turkey on Monday, the first day the deal was put into practice, according to Vincent Cochetel, director of UNHCR’s Europe bureau.
If proved, the claims would undermine the EU’s argument that the deportation deal, which could lead to the expulsion of almost all asylum seekers who arrived in Greece after 20 March, was in line with international law. The EU haspreviously promised that people “who apply for asylum in Greece will have their applications treated on a case by case basis” and that “there will be no blanket and no automatic returns of asylum seekers”.
But Cochetel said on Tuesday that 13 Afghans and Congolese asylum seekers – who reached the Greek island of Chios after 20 March, and who were deported back to Turkey on Monday – were not allowed to formally register their asylum claims, due to administrative chaos on the island.
Afghans are escaping Islamist extremism and a decades-old civil war, while the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been hit by a long-running insurgency.
Cochetel told the Guardian: “For four days after the 20th, the Greek police did not register any intention to seek asylum as they were no prepared [or] equipped for this, so we started providing forms to people who had declared their intention to seek asylum.
“The police received most of the people with these forms and … forgot some apparently. It is more a mistake than anything else, we hope.”
Asked to comment on the allegations, Chios police denied that anyone had been returned to Turkey against their will. “All of the 66 people we sent yesterday did not want to stay in Greece,” said an official at Chios police headquarters, who did not give his name.
The EU commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prior to the deal, several rights campaigners and politicians warned that the Greek authorities needed more support to make the returns procedure work properly. The head of the Greek asylum service, Maria Stavropoulou, said on Friday her department may need a 20-fold increase in manpower to thoroughly process people’s claims.
Even Diederik Samsom, the Dutch politician who promoted the EU deal prior to its introduction, expressed concerns about possible mistakes. “We must ensure all procedures are in order,” he told Dutch media during a visit to the Greek islands over the weekend. “To be honest, at the moment this is not yet the case.”
No deportations took place on Tuesday, with the next expulsions to the Turkish port of Dikili planned for Wednesday. On Monday, more asylum seekers landed in Greece from Turkey (228) than were deported in the opposite direction (202). However, the arrival rate has been reduced by about 90% over the past two months.
[Source:- The Guardian]