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EU advises members to resume returning refugees to Greece

8 December 2016 16:19

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The European Union says its member states can resume returning the asylum seekers spread across the continent to Greece from March 2017 in an effort to restore the bloc’s refugee policies, which collapsed under a mass influx last year.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive, said Greece, as the main gateway to Europe, has managed to improve conditions for refugees as well as their registration process, adding that the EU nations can now send back those entering the continent that way.

Under the bloc’s Dublin asylum rules, the first host country is in charge of taking care of asylum requests. The country is also required to take back any asylum seekers who make their way to other EU states.

However, Athens failed to cope with the unprecedented flow of refugees arriving there from conflict-ridden regions last year, letting them move on to Germany and other wealthier EU nations.

In 2011, the EU’s top court warned that living conditions for refugees in Greece were deteriorating, in a ruling that was issued at the height of Athens’ debt crisis, meaning the bloc’s member states could not send the refugees back to the country of entry.

Refugees move their tent following an explosion and fire at a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos on November 25, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

On Thursday, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a press conference in Brussels, “We are recommending the gradual resumption of Dublin transfers of asylum seekers starting next year.”

“Greece has made significant progress under very pressing, very difficult conditions to put in place a fully functioning asylum system over the last months, and I want to praise Greece,” said Avramopoulos, who is himself from Greece.

His aides said the deportations to Greece are to be resumed on March 15, 2017.

People who have already moved on from Greece cannot be returned, and the returns system will only apply to people who move to other countries after March 15, he said.

Unaccompanied minors and vulnerable people will be excluded from the transfers, while Greece must also provide guarantees for each individual returned to receive proper treatment.

Greece and Italy have been the first point of entry for lion’s share of the more than one million refugees who have entered the bloc fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

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