Bulgarian officials aid in expelling migrants from Greece to Turkey

Five members of Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry Migration Directorate participated in what a ministry statement described as the first successful operation to forcibly evict 87 foreign citizens from Greece to Turkey.

The directorate is actively involved in the activities of EU border agency Frontex, Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry said on April 5.

At the European Council meeting on March 17 and 18, Frontex had requested assistance in operational implementation of activities regarding readmission, the statement said.

The Bulgarian officials seconded to the operation had been deployed to the Greek island of Chios from April 3 to 29, and on April 4, took part in returning 87 foreigners, mainly citizens of Afghanistan and Pakistan, to Turkey’s port city of Dikili.

The Bulgarians would continue to assist in the deportations from Greece to Turkey.

The Interior Ministry said that in line with the rule of Frontex and the EU, the agency was paying the costs of airfare, accommodation, daily allowances and expenses for mobile communications, internet and dry cleaning for the officials.

In a separate statement, Frontex said that on April 4, it had assisted Greece in transporting 202 migrants on three ferries from the islands of Lesbos and Chios to Turkey. The operation included 180 escort officers deployed by Frontex, as well as Greek officers.

The readmission operation is coordinated between the Greek and Turkish authorities as part of the EU-Turkey agreement, Frontex said.

The agency said that Greek authorities are responsible for making sure that all migrants to be readmitted have been subject to individual decisions taken in full accordance with EU and international law.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that since April 4, IOM Turkey had facilitated the departure of 74 Syrians for resettlement to Europe as part of the March 18 2016 agreement between EU heads of state and the government of Turkey.

As the first three boats carrying migrants departed Greece for Turkey under the deal, IOM’s office in Turkey arranged the logistics for the resettlement of the refugees from Turkey to Europe.

On April 4, IOM Turkey organised the departure of 32 Syrians to Germany and 11 Syrians to Finland.

On April 5, a further 31 Syrians departed Turkey for resettlement in the Netherlands. IOM’s offices in Turkey are in ongoing discussions with other EU member states for timely resettlement of Syrian refugees from Turkey.

For these resettlements, the process begins when the refugee is referred to the resettlement country who then contacts IOM for support with the resettlement selection mission.

IOM Turkey supports these selection missions by providing logistical support, accommodation for the refugees being interviewed by the resettlement country and transportation for the refugees to and from their location to the interview location, IOM said.

Once the resettlement is mutually agreed by the resettlement country and the refugee, IOM Turkey performs pre-departure health checks to ensure each refugee is fit to travel. After this check, IOM Turkey arranges all domestic and international transportation from the point of departure in Turkey to the final destination in the resettlement country.

In some cases, IOM Turkey also provides pre-departure cultural orientation and pre-embarkation sessions on the travel process if requested by the resettlement country. This was not the case with the Syrians moved on April 4 and 5, IOM said.

According to the European Commission, the Syrian resettlement is being carried out in first instance by honouring commitments made by EU member states under the July 22 2015 Joint EU resettlement scheme. Some 18 000 resettlement places remain from this commitment.

“The resettlement of refugees provides a safe and legal alternative to the dangerous irregular sea crossings.

Although this is a first step in the right direction, more must be done and more places must be offered for refugees, not only under resettlement programmes, but also through family reunification, humanitarian admission, and humanitarian and student visas to name but a few,” said Lado Gvilava, IOM Turkey Chief of Mission.

Since the conflict in Syria began, IOM Turkey has assisted nearly 9500 Syrians to resettle to a third country from Turkey.

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) noted that the March agreement between the EU and Turkey is an attempt to stem the numbers of refugees landing on Europe’s shores, which has increased more than 17-fold compared to the same period in 2015.

Under the deal, all new arrivals are being kept in detention until their asylum claims are assessed.

“UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is not party to the EU-Turkey deal and maintains that such an arrangement, in order to be consistent with international and European refugee and human rights law, must include clearly spelt out protection safeguards, both in Greece (where individual claims must be properly assessed) and in Turkey,” UNHCR said.

UNHCR has also warned that Greece is under-prepared and ill-equipped to manage the situation.

“Greece still does not have sufficient capacity on (the Greek islands) to process large numbers of asylum claims,” says Boris Cheshirkov, a UNHCR spokesperson.

UNHCR is opposed to mandatory detention of asylum-seekers and has urged the Greek Government to provide alternatives to detention, Cheshirkov said.

Since March 20, when detention of new arrivals began, UNHCR has suspended activities in closed centres and is now focusing on providing information on asylum, identifying people at heightened risk, such as pregnant women, elderly, and torture survivors and monitoring procedures and conditions.

On the shoreline,in the ports, and in open reception centres, UNHCR maintains assistance activities, alongside volunteers, NGOs and the government, UNHCR said.

(Photo: Interior Ministry press centre)



The Sofia Globe staff

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