30 more Syrian refugees for Ireland by end of month

Relocation plan slowed by delays in processing migrants at EU ‘hotspots’ in Greece and Italy

A further 30 refugees are expected to arrive in Ireland from Greece by the end of the month, as the government seeks to meet its commitments under the EU's refugee relocation plan agreed last year.

While Ireland pledged to accept 2,622 migrants from Greece and Italy under the EU's relocation plan, only 10 Syrian refugees have arrived so far. The programme has been struggling to get off the ground due to delays in processing migrants at the EU's "hotspots" in Greece and Italy.

With Irish officials now confident that the hotspot system is operating more effectively, a further 30 Syrian refugees are expected to be relocated by the end of April. This is in addition to the 259 migrants that have been resettled in Ireland through a separate programme.

As the EU's controversial refugee plan with Turkey got under way on Monday, Turkish officials indicated that Ankara would accept a further 200 migrants from Greece this week, although further deportations may not take place until Friday.


Just over 200 migrants and refugees – primarily from Pakistan and Afghanistan – were deported from the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios on Monday. After arriving in the coastal Turkish town of Dikili, they were bussed to the northern Turkish town of Kirklareli near the Bulgarian border. Most are expected to be sent back from there to their home countries.

The Greek Orthodox Church meanwhile says it has accepted a suggestion from Pope Francis that he visit Greece to highlight the plight of the thousands of refugees fleeing conflict. The holy synod, the ruling body of the Greek Orthodox Church, said in a statement that it wanted the pontiff to visit Lesbos, where hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants have arrived in the past year. A Greek church official said the visit could happen this month.

Under the plan agreed at an EU summit last month, migrants arriving in Greece will be returned to Turkey, while EU countries will resettle Syrian refugees directly from Turkey.

Other EU commitments include €6 billion in funding to help Turkey deal with the refugee crisis and a pledge to speed up talks on visa liberalisation and accession negotiations.

Turkey's prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu defended the deal with the EU. "This arrangement will prevent the Aegean Sea from being turned into a cemetery for migrants," he told parliament

However, just a day after the new programme began, there were already question marks about whether all of the migrants deported from Greece on Monday had exercised their right to claim asylum.

Under the EU-Turkey deal, all migrants who have arrived on the Greek islands from March 20th who are not applying for asylum, or whose application for asylum has been rejected, must be returned to Turkey. The European Commission has stressed that all migrants arriving in Greece will still be permitted to apply for asylum and to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

The director of Greece's asylum service, Maria Stavropoulou, told state TV that about 3,000 people in deportation camps on the Greek islands were seeking asylum. The backlog of people waiting to have applications assessed could delay the implementation of the EU-Turkey plan. Ms Stavropoulou said that while the processing of asylum applications typically took three months, it would be "considerably faster" for those held in detention.

“There will be a difficult few months ahead,” she said. “We are dealing with people who speak 70 different languages and many have travelled to Greece without papers because they are escaping war.”

Migrants staged protests inside some detention camps, including on the island of Lesbos, yesterday, according to reports. The aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières has suspended activities inside the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, amid concerns that it has become a “pre-removal” centre rather than a refugee centre. It said it was carrying on all its other activities around the island and continuing to monitor the situation in Moria.

Meanwhile the European Commission will set out its plans today for a reform of the Dublin regulation, a key strand of EU asylum policy which obliges refugees to seek asylum in the first EU country where they arrive.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent