Greece designates Turkey safe for asylum seekers

Greece has designated neighbouring Turkey as a safe country for international protection for most asylum-seekers departing its shores, the Associated Press reported on Monday.

The designation applies to asylum-seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Somalia, according to a joint decree from the Greek foreign and migration ministries, the agency said. 

The decree indicates that regional rival Turkey meets all criteria to examine asylum requests from these countries. It says that none of them would face any danger in the country "due to their race, religion, citizenship, political beliefs or membership in some particular social group.’’

Migrants and asylum seekers have been an ongoing issue of contention between Ankara and Athens.

The decree coincides with several reports published by migrant support groups, including Berlin-based rights group Mare Liberum, which claim that Greece is illegally sending asylum seekers back to Turkey, ignoring their rights in violation of international law. Athens has denied the charges.

Greece, for its part, accuses Turkey of using migration as a weapon, pointing to the Turkish government's failed decision last year to open its gates to Europe, causing an influx of thousands of migrants and refugees at its northwest frontier with Greece.

Turkey is home to almost 4 million refugees and in 2016 signed an agreement with the EU to stem migration and refugee flows to Greece, which has become a gateway for migrants looking to enter Europe.

A record-breaking 1 million people entered Greece through Turkey in 2015. However, these numbers have been greatly reduced since that year, AP said.

This year, Athens has asked Turkey to take back 1,453 people, without success, according to Greek officials.

Greece’s new designation for Turkey is “an important step in tackling illegal migration flows," AP cited Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi as saying.

The decision, the minister said, would “force” Turkey to crack down on illegal migration and smuggling networks.