The Telegraph: EU to call on Greece to speed up migrant returns to Turkey

By Peter Foster, Europe editor

Εuropean leaders will demand that Greece does more to speed up the deportation of illegal migrants back to Turkey amid reports of foot-dragging by Greek authorities in implementing the EU-Turkey deal on migration.

The calls for action from Greece are made in draft of the conclusions for this week’s European Council meeting in Brussels seen by The Daily Telegraph.

The draft calls for “further efforts to accelerate returns from the Greek Islands to Turkey” and a major drive to enhance the “efficiency and speed of appeals” of migrants who had claimed asylum in Greece’s Aegean Islands.

The draft communique also calls other EU states to step up support for Greece which now hosts over 50,000 migrants, some 14,500 in increasingly squalid holding camps on the Greek islands where there were riots earlier this year.

Under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal brokered by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, Turkey is to receive cash support of up to €6bn and the promise of visa-free travel for Turkish businessmen and tourists in return for stemming the flows of refugees.

Ahead of Thursday’s meeting of EU leaders, Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission hailed the achievements of the deal, confirming that some €467m had already been handed to the UN and other partners to provide healthcare, schooling and debit cards to refugees.

However Mr Juncker’s rosy portrayal of the EU’s largest-ever humanitarian aid programme has been challenged by NGOs and the European Stability Initiative, a Brussels-based think-tank, which accused him of glossing over the failings of deal.

Describing the deal as “fragile” a report by the ESI earlier month warned that the implementation of the deal was falling “dramatically short” of what was necessary.

Even though numbers have fallen dramatically compared to last year, refugees are still arriving on the islands at a rate of 3,000 a month, with only around 110 per month were being sent back because of legal problems and lack of staff.

The EU originally called for member states to send 400 officials to help process asylum cases, but at present only 74 had been provided, said Alexandra Stiglmayer, a senior analyst at ESI, which is calling for a foreign-minister level official to be put in charge of revamping the programme.

“The EU is not really ringing the alarm bell,” she added, “Member states think that nothing is going wrong because refugees are not piling up on their borders, but the system is in crisis.”

Regional analysts are sceptical, however, that much will change given the sharp fall in numbers from a year ago when refugees poured into the Greek Islands at a peak rate of 200,000 a month.

“While this is creating a cosmetic problem for the EU, it is a much bigger political and operational problem for Greece, but certainly won’t call into question the agreement itself,” said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at the Eurasia Group, a risk consultancy.

“The EU-Turkey deal isn’t going anywhere. Despite all the noise and bluster, the Turkish government is happy with the concessions they have and will extract from the EU, and the EU believes the agreement has helped bring down refugee numbers.”

The meeting of EU heads of state this Thursday and Friday – the first to be attended by Theresa May as Prime Minister – will also focus on EU trade deals, Russia’s role in the Syria conflict and plans to strike similar refugees with African countries in a bid to stem flows from the continent.