EU countries to begin returning asylum seekers to Greece

Germany and other European countries have begun to resume the process of sending asylum seekers who arrived in Europe via Greece back to the country.

Officials say improved services mean it is appropriate to return individuals to Greece, under EU rules that state asylum seekers need to lodge their asylum application in the first country they arrive in.

The requirement had been suspended as Greece struggled to deal with large numbers of asylum seekers, many fleeing conflict in Syria.

But overcrowded and harsh conditions remain a problem, and humanitarian organisations have expressed doubts about whether Greek authorities are able to adequately support refugees.

On Tuesday Berlin said it had asked Athens to take back 392 individuals, while other countries including the UK, France, the Netherlands and Norway have said they will seek to transfer smaller numbers.

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Boris Cheshirekov, a spokesperson for the UNHCR Greece, told Sky News that transfers would resume on a case-by-case basis, and that vulnerable groups such as disabled people and children would not be returned.

“The capacity of the Greek state has increased dramatically in the last year,” he said, explaining that transfers will depend on an “assurance” by the Greek government.

Authorities in Greece and other EU countries stress that only small numbers of people are likely to be sent back.

Last month fears of overcrowding and neglect in Greece were highlighted by a riot at a camp in Lesbos, while many aid organisations have said that refugees struggle to access healthcare, work and shelter.

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