Migrants landing on the Greek islands will be deported within days, under a fast-tracked process drawn up by Angela Merkel to deter crossings.
Reception centres used to register asylum seekers on the holiday islands of Lesbos, Chios and Leros will be converted into vast detention camps, dormitories and court rooms.
Migrants will undergo face-to-face to interviews with EU asylum officers, before Greek judges rule on any appeals in rapid-fire hearings. Economic migrants determined to be at risk of absconding will be detained.
The operation – to cost €20 million a month and handle up to 2000 migrants a day – will involve chartering a flotilla of ferries to send both economic migrants and legitimate asylum seekers back to Turkey.
Under a highly controversial grand bargain, in exchange Turkey will send Syrian asylum seekers directly to Europe under a one-for-one swap. It will also receive €6 billion in aid and visa-free travel from June.
The deal demands gravity-defying legal gymnastics and has a high chance of being struck down in the courts.
The interview process is necessary after groups such as the UNHCR warned that collective deportation, conducted without individual assessments as to eligibility for asylum, is illegal under international law.
Still, Turkey is not a signatory of the Geneva convention on refugee rights – drawn up after the Second World War – and currently deports some Afghans and Iraqis back to their war-torn homelands, something that is strictly forbidden under EU law.
Under the EU’s proposals, the deportation of people entitled to asylum will be permitable if the conditions – such as asylum processing, education and healthcare – in Turkey are determined by the Greek judges to be equivalent to that offered under the convention.
“Applying these provisions seems to require changes to both Greek and Turkish domestic legislation. We are not saying that this will be easy,” said Frans Timmermans, the EU’s first vice president.
“The catalogue of issues to be resolved before we can conclude an agreement is long,” said Donald Tusk, the European Council president. “An absolute priority is to ensure that our decisions respect both EU and international law.”
There is evidence the crackdown, designed to render an expensive crossing over the Aegean, is reopening older, far more dangerous smuggling routes across the Mediterranean to Italy.
Photo: DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images
The Italian coast guard said it had rescued 2,000 migrants from smugglers’ boats off Libya since Tuesday in a sudden surge of crossings.
A Telegraph analysis of mortality figures compiled by the International Organisation for Migration highlights the danger of shutting down the Aegean route, used by more than a million people to reach the Balkans and western Europe.
Since January 2014, some 1,161 people have died on the Aegean route – one for every 893 successful crossings. On the Mediterranean route, the deathtoll of 6,175 over the same period amounts to one for every 54 successful crossings. Some 800 people drowned in a single sinking last April.
Officials are preparing for a sudden surge in crossings over the Turkey-Bulgarian border, or along the “bicycle route” through Russia to Finland.
Diplomats said that after a series of botched initiatives, they will pull the plug on the Merkel gambit within weeks if it does not halt the crossings.
There is intense anger in Brussels at the sudden production of the plan cooked up between Mrs Merkel and Ankara at a summit ten days ago.
Addressing German MPs yesterday, she insisted: “We are at a decisive point for resolving the refugee crisis.
Photo: AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda“The EU summit tomorrow and on Friday will determine whether we can reach an agreement that could give us, for the first time, a real chance at a sustainable and pan-European solution to the refugee crisis.”
Refugees who are living rough in a muddy, overcrowded encampment on the border between Greece and Macedonia are desperately hoping that the EU summit will result in the reopening of frontiers along the Balkan migration route.
Meanwhile, the 12,000 refugees stuck on the border near the village of Idomeni have latched on to wild, unfounded rumours sweeping the camp that the Brussels meeting will clear the way for them to resume their trek north to the wealthier countries of Europe.
They say that is the reason why they have remained at the camp since Macedonia sealed its border with Greece, despite having to live in tiny tents pitched in waterlogged fields in front of the razor wire.
They are going to be disappointed – EU leaders have declared that the Balkan route is closed for good.
“We are waiting for the meeting and the decision to reopen the border with Macedonia,” said Aras Mohammad, 25, a graduate of English who fled the war in Syria. “Maybe they will open all the borders.”
He has been living in a tiny tent for three weeks, queuing for hours for sandwiches and trying to keep his one set of clothes dry and clean from the cloying mud.
He dreams of reaching Germany, to be reunited with his parents, brothers, sisters and other family members, who are scattered between Munich, Hamburg and Dortmund.
A few refugees, particularly families, are signing up to a long-stalled EU resettlement programme in which 160,000 asylum seekers stuck in Greece and Italy are supposed to be relocated to countries throughout the EU.
But others are deterred by what they fear will be a very long wait.
Photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty ImagesImages
Photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty ImagesImages
“If I sign up to that I’m afraid I will have to wait three years,” said Hussam Jackl, 25, a law graduate from Damascus. “Families and special cases will have priority. I’m alone and single men will be the last to be resettled, I’ve heard. A lot of people still have hope in the EU meeting.”
Standing on the railway tracks that bisect the makeshift encampment, he held up a sign, in English – “Dear sun, please shine on us, it’s very cold here. We have nowhere to go back. Best, migrants stuck on borders.”
Humanitarian workers confirmed that many refugees were wary of signing up to the relocation scheme, which has so far enabled just a few hundred people to be resettled.
“For people who have relatives in Austria or Germany, relocation is not a very good option because it is so random – they have no choice in where they go so they could end up in Lithuania or Slovenia or Slovakia,” said Angelina Lykogianni, who works for Arsis, a Greek NGO.