No Syrian asylum seekers have yet been forcibly returned from Greece to Turkey under a migration-stemming deal the European Union struck with Ankara in March, the bloc's executive said Wednesday.
Under the deal - negotiated after more than 1 million people reached European shores last year - Ankara agreed to take back migrants and asylum seekers who crossed by sea from Turkey to the Greek islands, including people who had fled the war in Syria.
But the process has been hampered by slow procedures in Greece, where migrants have the right to file asylum claims and appeal any negative decision before being returned to Turkey.
By the start of this week, 578 people had so far been returned under the EU-Turkey deal, of whom 53 were Syrians who had chosen to go back to Turkey rather than push for asylum in Greece, according to the European Commission.
The figure also includes economic migrants - who are not entitled to asylum in the EU - and others whose asylum requests were turned down.
Around 1,000 Syrians - out of an overall 3,000 seeking protection on Greek soil - have had their claims rejected but are appealing that decision, a commission spokeswoman added.
Despite the slow progress, the commission rated the EU-Turkey deal as a success.
"The reduction in attempts to cross the Aegean [Sea] and in deaths at sea has confirmed its core rationale," said commission Vice President Frans Timmermans.
As part of the agreement, EU member states pledged to take in one Syrian refugee living in Turkey for each Syrian returned from Greece. An overall 1,614 Syrian refugees have so far been resettled from Turkey to the EU in this way, the commission said.
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