- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2016

LESBOS, Greece — Faruk Maliki fled to Europe when the Islamic State group attempted to recruit him in Turkey, where he had sought safety from the civil war in his native Syria. But now he is living in terror once again, fearful of being swept up in the European Union’s agreement with Ankara to deport refugees that could send him back to his violent homeland.

“They’ll send me straight back to ISIS,” said Mr. Maliki, a former oil company technician in his mid-40s from Damascus, Syria, using one of the names by which the terrorist group is known.

Mr. Maliki is detained on this Greek island in the northeastern Aegean Sea, but he is expected to be deported now that his application for asylum has been rejected.

“If I’m sent back, they’ll find me again,” he said, relating how two former colleagues visited him in late March at his Istanbul apartment to pressure him to help the Islamic State’s oil operations, an important moneymaker for the militant group.

He knew they wouldn’t take no for an answer. While they were in his living room, the technician gathered his documents and escaped through the kitchen window. He went to Izmir, on the Turkish coast of the Aegean Sea, and two days later crossed to Lesbos on a rubber boat.

He is far from alone in his plight. More than 1 million migrants crossed into Europe last year, and EU leaders reached a deal with Turkey this year to try to stop the flow. One of the major underlying concerns was blocking the infiltration of terrorists posing as refugees.

But in an unexpected twist, some of the deported refugees are sent not to Turkey, but straight back into militants’ hands, according to human rights groups.

Under the agreement with the European Union, Turkey is recognized as a safe country and will accept refugees in Europe. In exchange, the EU has agreed to a $6 billion aid package for Turkey, to reopen negotiations on Turkey’s entrance into the European Union and to end visa restrictions for Turks seeking to enter much of Europe.

Still, human rights organizations and the United Nations strongly disagree on whether Turkey is safe and whether all the refugees will be able to stay. Amnesty International reported that Turkish authorities have deported dozens of Syrians back to their war-torn country.

In late June, Turkish soldiers fired on a group of Syrians who attempted to enter Turkey, killing 11, including four children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. More than 60 refugees trying to cross have been killed recently, the observatory said.

Safe harbor?

In Mr. Maliki’s case, Greek officials rejected his asylum application on grounds that he had lived and worked in Istanbul. Turkey, therefore, is a “safe” country for him, the officials reasoned.

“The committee’s decision comes as a surprise for such a case,” Dimitris Kouzinoglou, Mr. Maliki’s attorney, told Greek public broadcaster ERT. “We were surprised that there was no interview [with an appellate board], even though Maliki’s case includes all the conditions the Greek law requires in order for him to get international protection.”

But Greek authorities, facing deep public resistance to their handling of the refugee influx, are striving to show that the Turkish deal is working.

Top officials oversaw the first deportations in March, and about 200 refugees boarded ferries bound for Turkey. Tens of thousands who are not subject to the deal remain in Greece.

Even so, officials say, the deal has had an effect.

“Four months ago, some 4,000 people arrived daily to our islands,” Greek Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas told Greek broadcaster Skai. “Today, that number is around 100 people.”

Meanwhile, Greek and Turkish authorities are scrambling to open refugee camps and increase the number of deportees. So far, they have sent back about 500.

Around 8,000 refugees on the Greek islands are eligible for deportation under the EU-Turkey deal. Another 57,000 on the Greek mainland are not. Their fate has not been decided, but most have applied for asylum or are hoping to reach Germany, Sweden or elsewhere in Northern Europe to look for jobs.

Living in misery

Activists say those mainland migrants remain in limbo and are living in terrible conditions.

“Some of the refugees and migrants who had been living in Idomeni have been moved into derelict warehouses and factories, inside of which tents have been placed too tightly together,” said Melissa Fleming, head of communications at the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. “The air circulation is poor, and supplies of food, water, toilets, showers and electricity are insufficient.”

At the Edirne Removal Center in northwestern Turkey, 20 migrants at a time are locked up in rooms with only 12 beds. They are allowed to leave for 15 minutes to three hours per day, according to lawmakers in the EU Parliament who visited the center in May.

But those “legal pathways” have not always been available. Many refugees deported to Turkey and other countries told authorities that they would be in danger if sent home.

“We were not given the opportunity to apply for asylum in Greece,” a group of Pakistani asylum seekers told the EU parliamentarians. “We also don’t have Urdu interpreters here. They are not listening to us.”

Mr. Maliki, who is detained at the police station in Mytilini, Lesbos, knows the authorities have heard him but said they just don’t care.

“I can’t believe that the authorities believe that Turkey is a safe country for me,” he said. “[It’s] the country I fled in order to save my life.”

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