Greece has vowed to press on with its increasingly hardline approach to migration with one government official saying the country did not want to become a “gateway” for people smuggling operations into Europe.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis defended last month’s government declaration that Turkey, which borders Greece, is a safe country for asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia and Syria.
EU member state Greece could now return asylum seekers from those five countries to Turkey.
Mr Mitarakis said he believed that there was “no risk” for Afghans, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Somalians and Syrians in Turkey, which he described as “a properly functioning country”.
Around 47 per cent of asylum seekers in Greek island camps are Afghans, 15 per cent are Syrians and nine per cent are from Somalia.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in February 2020 said he would let migrants seeking to reach the EU to pass through Turkey, an announcement that angered Greece.
“In our case, Greece follows a strict but fair migration policy. We clearly provide asylum to those entitled, but do not want to be the gateway to Europe for smuggling networks nor can we allow smugglers to decide who will migrate to Europe,” Mr Mitarakis told a webinar organised by the London School of Economics.
Pressed on his migration policy, Mr Mitarakis defended his government’s strict stance and described it as a “constitutional responsibility”.
“We are very frank about it. We are protecting our borders,” he said.
Athens has been accused by human rights groups of illegally deporting some migrants to Turkey without letting them apply for asylum. The Greek government rejects the claims.
In April, Greece accused Turkey of seeking to “provoke an escalation” in the Aegean using “dangerous” manoeuvres to assist migrants illegally.
This month, Mr Mitarakis defended Greece’s use of sound cannon to deter migrants from crossing into the country.
More than 1,000 people have reached Greece from Turkey this year, the UN’s refugee agency says, compared to 810,000 migrants in 2015.