Today had been declared the first day that migrants and refugees would be deported from Greece within the framework of the EU-Turkey deal, and European authorities seemed determined not to miss the date. So as of Sunday, Greek police, along with the EU border agency Frontex, organised a large-scale operation to ensure the smooth handling of today’s returns from the islands of Chios and Lesbos.
The operation was initially deemed a success, with reports being limited to the boats and their occupants, which offered some digestible photo ops. There is plenty of evidence, though, that suggests that it has been no more than a media-savvy gesture on behalf of the European commission.
How much coercion and force will become necessary when people really start resisting deportations?
Officials from Frontex clarified that the boats carried mostly Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Afghans and Moroccans who were going to be deported to Turkey prior to the deal or didn’t request asylum. There were only two Syrians among them who appear not to have requested international protection. Indeed authorities appear to have rushed to identify such people so they could be available for today’s return. Termed “easy cases” by Frontex spokeswoman Eva Moncure, they are perfect material for today’s photo op.
As it turns out, more than 90% of people arriving in Greek islands since 20 March – when the EU-Turkey deal was enacted – have opted for asylum, thus complicating their return under the arrangement. It is no surprise then that no further dates have been announced for future deportations.
The first day of deportations has been met with affirmative statements by credible international organisations, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who confirmed that all procedures were regular and rights of deportees were observed. Everything is smooth and tidy, it seems. But this is one version of the story only. There is a second where things have gone less smoothly.
Activist lawyers’ accounts and journalist reports from the islands raise the question of whether refugees have been given sufficient time and access to asylum procedures. It appears that many of them do not yet understand the content of the deal or why they have been restricted, and there has been a last-minute rush for asylum claims among the people who are possible deportees. It is also unclear how Turkey plans to handle returnees, how they will be received, and whether they will be able to receive the protection that was previously offered to them there.
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In one case yesterday at a pre-removal centre in Chios, police faced angry protesters among those rounded up to be deported. Videos have emerged in which detainees appear to scream “no deport” and “shame on Europe”. It is unclear to what degree the deportees have been coerced to comply with operational procedures.
Such evidence is important in order to pose questions about the future of the deal. How much coercion and force will become necessary when people really start resisting deportations? How will the EU follow up the nasty details of the process when Frontex does not have a complaints mechanism to carry out inquiries into violations? What will be the limits for NGOs and international organisations before they become complicit?
Deportation from Europe has a dark history, hence the need for a positive photo op today. But without genuine transparency over the enacting of the EU-Turkey deal, pictures alone won’t be enough.
Published by the Guardian – Comment is Free