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EU plan to send Syrian refugees back to Turkey jeopardised by Greek court

Turkey and the EU reached a deal to send Syrian refugees back across the Aegean Sea in March

Jon Stone
Friday 20 May 2016 16:44 BST
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Refugees disembark from a dinghy after their arrival from Turkey on the Greek island of Lesbos, on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015
Refugees disembark from a dinghy after their arrival from Turkey on the Greek island of Lesbos, on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015 (AP)

A Greek immigration tribunal has ruled that Turkey is not a safe country to send refugees back to – throwing an EU plan to return Syrians there en masse into jeopardy.

The EU and Turkey reached a deal in March under which Turkey would close its internal border and prevent refugees from travelling to Europe under their own steam.

Under the same plan, countries such as Greece that have borne the brunt of new arrivals would return refugees to Turkey, while asylum seekers in Turkey would be systematically found a home elsewhere in Europe – relieving pressure on the south of the continent.

In exchange, the EU has offered Turkish people visa-free travel and an informally accelerated process of accession to the Union, which Turkey wants to join.

But Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported that a secondary appeals panel on the Greek island of Lesbos found that Turkey was not a safe third country to send refugees back to, a decision it said was likely to set a precedent under the country’s legal system.

More than a million refugees have travelled through Greece since 2015, according to UN estimates, and the country is one of the main spots on which Syrian refugees first make landfall in Europe.

Repatriation from Greece was one of the main aims of the scheme, to relieve pressure on the already austerity-hit country.

The EU is already likely to miss its June 2016 deadline of approving visa-free travel for Turkish citizens – meaning both sides of the deal are now in jeopardy.

The blow to the deal comes the same week as Conservative MP Peter Bone warned that a vote to stay in the EU would be a vote for “mass immigration” from Turkey.

“The consequences [of Turkish accession to the EU] could be grave. We will open our borders to a rapidly growing Turkish population,” he wrote in an article for the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

“It grew from under 50 million in 1985 to 77 million in 2015. It is projected to overtake Germany’s declining population by 2018 and reach over 95 million by 2050.”

But asked on LBC Radio today about whether Turkey would join the EU, Boris Johnson said it was “not going to happen for the foreseeable future” – describing the odds as “between nil and 20 per cent”.

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