The EU’s home affairs commissioner said on Monday that Turkey should “urgently” resume accepting hundreds of migrants from Greece, days before EU chiefs were due to hold talks in Ankara.
“I call on Turkey to urgently resume the return of migrants from Greece,” Ylva Johansson said during a visit to the Greek island of Lesbos, which hosts more than 8,000 asylum seekers.
EU chiefs Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen will meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey next Tuesday.
There are nearly 14,000 migrants housed on Lesbos and another four Aegean islands – Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros.
Speaking alongside Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi, Johansson pledged 275 million euros ($324 million) of EU money for new camps on all five islands.
She had earlier visited the construction site of the Samos camp, tweeting: “I listened and explained that the migration proposals are designed to Europeanise and help the situation.”
Mitarachi, who has said new migrant camps are expected to be completed on Samos by June, and on Kos and Leros by September, called on Turkey to accept 1,450 migrants whose asylum applications had been rejected.
The press conference was delayed by roughly 300 people demonstrating against the planned Lesbos camp, in a protest called by local governor Costas Moutzouris.
“The islanders will not allow the construction of permanent camps on Greek and European borders,” the governor said in a statement.
Moutzouris had also whipped up opposition to the new camp last year. An attempt by the government to force ahead with construction work had prompted days of riots and clashes with riot police.
Greece has toughened its migration policy since conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis came to power in 2019.
Border patrols have increased, asylum processes have been quickened and benefits have been slashed, even for refugees who are granted asylum.
Greece has also been accused by rights groups of repeatedly pushing back migrant boats in violation of international law.
Government officials have repeatedly denied the claims.
“We haven’t returned boats. We have prevented boats from entering European and Greek territory, but this is something allowed by the regulations,” Mitarachi told AFP in an interview earlier this month.
However, Johansson insisted on Monday that Greece “can do more” to investigate pushbacks.
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