Greece on Wednesday expressed its intention to deport Afghan migrants to Turkey, calling its neighbor "a safe country for Afghan citizens," despite Ankara having recently said that it will not bear the burden of migration crises experienced as a result of the decisions of third countries.
The chaotic situation in Afghanistan precludes the direct deportation of Afghans denied asylum, but Turkey remains an option for Athens, the Greek migration minister said Wednesday.
"The reality is that no country can carry out returns towards Afghanistan," Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told Skai TV.
"Nor do we have a clear image of what conditions will prevail in Afghanistan in coming months," following the Taliban's return to power, he said, adding, it was "still early" to say whether Greece would face a new refugee wave.
But Mitarachi noted: "We consider Turkey a safe country for Afghan citizens."
Greece has for months tried in vain to persuade Turkey to take back nearly 2,000 migrants whose asylum claims Athens has rejected.
For the time being, as tens of thousands of Afghans try to flee their country, the minister said Greece's priority is to evacuate EU nationals and locals who assisted Greek forces during the NATO mission there.
"The first priority is humanitarian ... we are discussing the transport of a few families, (people who were) interpreters for the Greek army, or cooperated with us in whatever way," he said.
But Mitarachi insisted that with Greece already sheltering 40,000 Afghans, it would not become a "gateway for irregular flows" again after the huge influx of 2015.
"Twenty thousand of them are requesting asylum and 20,000 are recognized refugees," he said.
Mitarachi said Greece had made a "substantial" contribution on the issue, and that other countries "east of Greece" should assist in a potential refugee wave in the wake of the Taliban takeover.
"If the EU at some point decides on a more coordinated program to legally relocate certain (vulnerable) groups, we will look at it," he said.
Regarding the situation in Afghanistan, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Sunday: “In Turkey, we are facing a wave of Afghan migrants through Iran,” adding that they will continue to make every effort to help bring stability to Afghanistan and the region.
Turkey has been a key transit point for asylum-seekers attempting to cross into Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution.
Concerns have risen over a possible spike in refugees from Afghanistan due to the U.S. pullout from the country after two decades and the following surge of Taliban attacks.
Turkey has deployed additional reinforcements to its eastern border with Iran and new measures are expected to be applied. Border security will be supported by technological systems.
Turkey has made clear that it will not bear the burden of the migration crises experienced as a result of the decisions of third countries.
Turkey hosts nearly 4 million refugees – more than any country in the world. After the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, Turkey adopted an “open-door policy” for people fleeing the conflict, granting them “temporary protection” status.
Afghans are believed to be the second-largest refugee community in Turkey after Syrians. Many of the migrants arriving via Iran are heading for Istanbul to find work or passage to another coastal city from which to embark for Europe.
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