- Title: Brussels recommends sending asylum-seekers back to Greece from March
- Date: 8th December 2016
- Summary: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (FILE - NOVEMBER 2016) (REUTERS) VARIOUS EXTERIORS OF EU COMMISSION
- Embargoed: 23rd December 2016 12:47
- Keywords: EU Greece migrants relocation asylum-seekers
- Location: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
- City: BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
- Country: Belgium
- Reuters ID: LVA0015C0Y4P3
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:EU states should be permitted to send some asylum-seekers back to Greece from March, the bloc's executive said on Thursday (December 8) as it looks to restore a common policy on migration that collapsed last year under a mass influx of refugees.
Under EU rules, the first country of entry is responsible for handling an asylum claim, but that system broke down last year in Greece, the main gateway to Europe for more than a million refugees and migrants.
Unable to cope, Greece let many of them pass through on their own to Germany and other wealthy EU states in defiance of the bloc's rules. That led countries along the route gradually to close their borders, stranding many in Greece, which struggled to offer them proper shelter.
The European Commission on Thursday said Greece has improved in hosting and registering arriving asylum-seekers.
It recommended that EU states be allowed to send back to Greece asylum-seekers who enter the bloc that way and make it deeper into Europe from mid-March onwards. The recommendation does not apply to those who have already made that journey.
"Asylum-seekers need to know that they cannot relocate themselves and that if they do so, they will be sent back. Relocation and resettlement should and will be the ways for them to use in order to reach safety," said the bloc's migration chief, Dimitris Avramopoulos.
The bloc's asylum policy and its zone of internal free travel both collapsed last year as an uncontrolled flow of migrants and refugees triggered bitter disputes between EU states on how to handle them.
These disputes remain unresolved and more than 62,000 people are still in Greece, even though an EU agreement with Turkey in March reduced the arrivals to a trickle.
The failure is in large part due to reluctance by EU states to take in people from Greece and Italy to help process their asylum requests and ease the burden on the two frontline states.
"Let me also repeat once again that no single member state should be shouldering such responsibilities alone. Neither Greece nor Italy nor any other country in the future should be left alone to bear an unsustainable burden," Avramopoulos told a news conference.
Brussels put additional conditions on returning people beyond March, saying Greece should give individual assurances of fair treatment for any returnees and that unaccompanied children not be sent back at all.
Obligatory quotas on refugees are one focus of the dispute between EU states as they seek to reform their common asylum rules.
Brussels, Berlin and Stockholm, among others, insist on a well-defined mechanism to share them out. Warsaw and Budapest are among those that say they will not be forced to take in any.
The Commission said arrivals from Turkey to Greece stood at an average of 92 people a day since March, compared to thousands that were at times making it in a single day before a deal on migration between the EU and Turkey. It said 1,187 people have been deported from Greece to Turkey since March 2016.
Under the deal with Turkey, which looks fragile now due to a breakdown in ties following Ankara's crackdown in the wake of a botched military coup in July, Brussels also said it had spent 677 million euros of the three billion promised to help Syrian refugees living on Turkish soil.
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