Greece says few migrants can return to Turkey - report

Only a small fraction of asylum seekers reaching Greece from Turkey can be sent back to the country because of humanitarian issues, according to Maria Stavropoulou, the former head of the Greek asylum service.

Greek law and European directives allow for the return of just 16 percent of applicants, who are mostly Syrian, Stavropoulou told Kathimerini newspaper.

“Given what we know about Turkey, those who can be shipped back are mostly Syrians, who enjoy a high level of protection,” said Stavropoulou, adding that the agency has ruled that 2,200 Syrians can be returned to Turkey on safe third-country grounds.

But the process can take a long time due to appeals and cancellation requests, she said. Her term in office expired a few days ago.

“Most people who land on the islands come from countries with high recognition rates such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Turkey has agreed to increase policing of its border to stem the flow of migrants and take back those who cross to Greece in return for European Union financial aid. The EU has also agreed to allow visa-free travel for Turks, conditional on other matters including steps to bolster rule of law in the European Union candidate.

Stavropoulou also said there had been an increase in the number of asylum requests from Turkish nationals. A total of 1,800 Turkish nationals applied for asylum in Greece in 2017.

Some Turks are fleeing the country after tens of thousands of people were imprisoned following an attempted coup in 2016 blamed on the Fethullah Gulen movement and its followers. Kurdish activists and leftists have also been rounded up under emergency rule measures introduced by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.