Greece Tells Migrants from 5 Countries to Seek Asylum in Turkey Instead

Greek officials said on Monday that migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Somalia should seek asylum in Turkey instead of Greece.

Greece's foreign and migration ministries issued a decree calling Turkey a safe country for asylum seekers from the five nations and said its neighbor is able to review their asylum requests. Many of these migrants reach Greece after departing from Turkey.

Asylum seekers from the five countries specified by Greece should seek protection in Turkey instead because they "are not in any danger...due to their race, religion, citizenship, political beliefs or membership in some particular social group," according to the decree.

In 2021 alone, more than 3,000 people traveled to Greece from Turkey seeking asylum. The United Nations' refugee agency documented 47 percent were from Afghanistan, 15 percent from Syria and nine percent from Somalia.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Migrants in Greece
A group of migrants walk outside between the tents in the new refugee camp of Kara Tepe, in the island of Lesbos, on Dec. 19, 2020. Greece said that migrants from five particular countries should seek asylum in Turkey instead. Anthi Pazianou/AFP via Getty Images

The decree, in theory, could reduce migration flows to European Union member Greece, as it would allow it to return asylum seekers from these countries to Turkey — which itself has a huge migrant and refugee population.

Nevertheless, despite pressure from the EU and Athens, Ankara has shown little appetite for taking back migrants who reached Greece from its territory, despite a 2016 Turkish-EU agreement that was meant to stem illegal migration into the 27-nation bloc.

Greek officials said Athens has so far this year asked Turkey to take back 1,453 people, without success.

Nevertheless, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi described Monday's decision as "an important step in tackling illegal migration flows" which, he said, would "force" Turkey to crack down on illegal migration and smuggling networks.

Mitarachi added that the decision "is fully in line with international law and enhances Greece's legal arsenal against (asylum) requests by citizens of ... Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Somalia, who objectively have no reason not to consider Turkey a safe country."

Greece and Turkey are historic regional rivals, and military tensions rose dangerously last year over marine boundaries. Athens accused Ankara of using migration as a weapon, pointing to the Turkish government's failed bid last year, before the military tension, to wave thousands of migrants and refugees towards Greece.

Several human rights groups have accused Greece of illegally deporting some migrants to Turkey without letting them apply for asylum. Athens denies that.

Although a record 1 million people entered Greece through Turkey in 2015 — mostly seeking to move on to wealthier EU countries — flows have since been greatly reduced.

This year, most have reached Greece from Turkey by sea in flimsy craft.

Migrants in a Refugee Camp in Greece
In this Monday, March 29, 2021, file photo, migrants inside a refugee camp watch the visit of EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson in the port of Vathy on the eastern Aegean island of Samos, Greece. Greece on Monday, June 7, 2021 designated neighboring Turkey as a safe country in which to seek international protection for the majority of asylum-seekers departing its shores for Greece. Michael Svarnias/AP Photo