Only 189 migrants returned to Turkey from Greece despite EU refugee deal - report

Merely 189 illegal migrants who arrived in Greece after crossing the Aegean Sea were returned to Turkey in 2019, despite a 2016 refugee deal between Ankara and the EU, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported on Sunday citing EU figures.

The figure constitutes only a tiny fraction of the some 60,100 refugees who arrived in Greece in 2019, a major hike in numbers from the previous year, it said.

Turkey and the EU in 2016 agreed on a deal that aimed to cut the influx of Syrian refugees arriving in Greece. According to the deal, the EU promised the allocation of €6 billion in aid to Turkey to help migrants. The bloc, in exchange, promised Ankara to update the customs union between the EU and Turkey and visa-free travel for Turkish citizens provided Turkey took steps including improvements to its judiciary. 

The agreement obliges Turkey to take back illegal Syrian migrant passing through its territory in an attempt to prevent them from crossing into Greece. For every irregular returned to Turkey, another Syrian approved for asylum in the EU will be resettled in one of the 28-states. 

A total of 1,995 Syrian asylum seekers were returned to Turkey between 2016-2019, 801 in 2016, 683 in 2017, 332 in 2018 and 189 in 2019, Deutsche Welle said citing a European Commission report seen by the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag.

The EU, during the same period, resettled 25,660 Syrian migrants from Turkey, according to the same report, which said that of the 60,100 asylum seekers that landed on Greek islands in 2019, around 37,700 were transferred to the mainland.

Greece has accused Turkey of not complying with its refugee agreement with the EU amid a large influx of migrants into Greece's Aegean islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros.

Athens last month announced plans to overhaul its migration management system, which is struggling with overcrowded refugee camps on the islands, home to around 42,000 people. 

"Turkey is no longer consistently preventing landings," Thorsten Frei, the deputy leader of the centre-right CDU/CSU faction in Germany's parliament who is responsible for migration, told Welt am Sonntag.

Turkey, for its part, has accused the EU of failing to live up to its obligations under the migrant deal, saying the bloc had failed to pay a promised 3 billion euros of the financial assistance in accordance with the agreement. 

"The number of repatriations from Greece to Turkey has for years only known one direction: it is going down. One must speak quite openly of an administrative failure here," Frei said.

Residents of the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos and Chios held protests last week over the government's handling of migrants arriving from Turkey.

Protestors on the island of Lesbos, where are more than 19,000 asylum seekers living at a facility with a capacity for 2,840, held banners reading, "We want our islands back" and "No more prisons for human souls in the North Aegean".