Despite widespread controversy surrounding the deal between the European Union and Turkey for a one-for-one refugee swap, Greece’s prime minister defended his government’s role Wednesday, arguing the flow of refugees has slowed.
“A few months ago we had flows of 3,000 to 4,000 [migrants and refugees] daily to our islands ... Today the flows are about 50 to 60 daily,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told Parliament.
The EU and Turkey agreed to a deal last month that requires the 28-member union to resettle one Syrian refugee for each refugee Greece sends back to Turkey. Officials argued the deal would help stem the flow of refugees escaping conflict-ridden and repressive states such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan; over 1 million arrived in Europe last year.
Greek officials also said Wednesday NATO’s naval patrols in the Aegean Sea, which are meant to stop human trafficking, have helped to slow the flow of refugees making the dangerous sea crossing into Europe. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is scheduled to meet with government officials in Athens this week.
Human rights groups have been highly critical of the EU-Turkey deal, arguing the agreement has violated refugees’ rights without properly describing what was taking place before deportations began.
“In the mad dash to start the deportations deal with Turkey, the European Union and Greece tossed rights to the wind, including for people who wanted to seek asylum,” Fred Abrahams, an associate program director at Human Rights Watch, said in a report released Tuesday. “The abusive deportations expose the fundamental flaws in the EU’s expedited mass returns to a country that cannot be considered safe.”
Many refugees remain trapped on the Greek-Macedonian border in makeshift tent shelters. Greek officials said Wednesday they have accommodated over 50,000 people in official camps with reception centers.
As part of the agreement, Turkey has continued to push the EU on visa liberalization, aiming for implementation by June and warning that the refugee deal could be at stake. “The European Union needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the European Union,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Tuesday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other EU officials are scheduled to travel to Turkey on Saturday.