Germany seals migrant return deal with Greece

Berlin – Berlin and Athens have reached an agreement that will allow Germany to return asylum seekers to Greece, according to a German Interior Ministry spokesperson.

The deal relates to asylum seekers for whom Greece is responsible, according to European Union rules, namely those who landed in Greece first before moving on to Germany.

The deal has been agreed in principle. There is only one document left to finalize, the spokesperson said. "The deal is imminent," she said, without giving details.

Agreements with other countries

Germany reached a similar deal with Spain in the past week, and negotiations with Italy were "very far advanced," with talks ongoing at ministerial level. "We expect this deal will materialize also with Italy," the spokesperson said. Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered to become personally involved in the talks with Italy, if required.

The deal with Madrid allows Berlin to send refugees back to Spain within 48 hours of entering Germany if it is discovered that they have already applied for asylum there.

The deal with Athens has the same provisions, so that refugees entering Germany via the border with Austria who have already applied for asylum in Greece can be sent back there within 48 hours.

Political wrangling

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who takes a harder line on immigration than Merkel, pushed the coalition government to the brink of collapse with his insistence on the right to send back to the border people who were already registered in other EU countries.

Merkel brokered the bilateral deals at an EU summit at the end of July in Brussels. Friday's announcement marks the latest to be finalized.

If the bilateral negotiations had failed, Seehofer had threatened to act unilaterally.

Seehofer has claimed that Greece and Italy have asked Germany to take more refugees from other countries in return for the bilateral deals, but the interior minister said he would not accept Germany taking in more refugees that it sends back.

Seehofer says he estimates no more than five refugees per day will fall under the provisions of the deals at the German-Austrian border.