Ahead of the upcoming EU summit with Turkey in Brussels, on Monday, March 7, President Prokopis Pavlopoulos is chairing a special meeting with the political leaders today Friday (4.3) in an attempt to find common ground for a national strategy on the ongoing refugee crisis, following Greek PM Alexis Tsipras’ meeting yesterday in Athens with the European Council President Donald Tusk and a special cabinet meeting to discuss the details of the situation and the government’s strategy and key goals.
Stressing that Greece has been meeting its obligations to the EU and to the humanitarian needs of the refugees by speeding up the creation of the maximum possible places for temporary shelter, the government is expected at the summit to condemn unilateral actions in the EU and seek the rapid disbursement of emergency aid to cope with the challenge, the fair allocation of the refugees with relocations from Greece and resettlements from Turkey, the readmissions of illegal economic migrants and the implementation of the EU-Turkey action plan to stop migration flows and illegal trafficking.
According to government sources, Tsipras noted during the cabinet meeting that Greece will not tolerate the failure to implement the decisions of the last European Council on refugees or unilateral actions by countries along the so-called “Balkan route” and will demand an immediate reinforcement and acceleration of processes for refugee relocation from Greece and resettlement from Turkey, with a specific reference in the Council conclusions that describes the relevant processes clearly. Greece will extend migrants accommodation facilities but won’t become a repository of human souls, Tsipras said, stressing that the country will assume its responsibilities for permanent hospitality positions that won’t exceed 1/50 of the full flow of migrants, as a fair share of a proportional distribution of the burdens and responsibilities in the EU and based on the country’s population and economic capability. The prime minister also cited the need for an immediate implementation of readmissions of migrants that had no right to asylum and the reinforcement of the EU-Turkey action plan to stem migration flows and stop illegal trafficking. Furthermore, he recognized that the situation in Greece with respect to the refugees was “difficult but manageable” with steady improvements in setting up the required hospitality facilities but is in need of immediate financial support from the EU and political action from the EU and Turkey to prevent further deterioration.
At an earlier joint press conference with EC President Donald Tusk, PM Alexis Tsipras urged for a stop to “unacceptable” unilateral actions in Europe, such as closing borders and excluding countries from discussions on the crisis and repeated that Greece has undertaken more than its share of the migrant crisis burden and will not become a “warehouse of souls”. Greece will ask for the burden-sharing to be equitable among all countries in the bloc, the premier said and called for expediting the participation in the relocation process and for sanctions against those not respecting the European rules and agreements.
European Council President Donald Tusk called for an immediate stem on the flow of migration from Turkey to Greece, urging at the same time illegal economic migrants to not waste their money and risk their lives by attempting to cross over into Europe because Greece or any other European country will no longer be a transit country to allow those migrants to pass through their territory. He also expressed the bloc’s solidarity with Greece as it struggles to cope with the growing crisis and stated that a possible exclusion of Greece from the Schengen area will not solve any problems nor unilateral actions that harm the spirit of European solidarity.“The EU will not leave Greece alone,” he said while welcoming a European Commission decision Wednesday to grant Greece, and other Balkan states, a 700-million-euro humanitarian aid package.
Also on Thursday (3.3), the Greek government announced the creation of a refugee management Coordinating Center of the various ministries dealing with the refugee crisis, chaired by Alternate Defence Minister Dimitris Vitsas. Focusing on the creation of temporary housing centers, in cooperation with local government, Vitsas promised temporary accommodation for 15.000 more people by next week. Data announced by the Center yesterday put the number of refugees and migrants currently in Greece at more than 30,000, among which more than 10,000 are located in Idomeni – on Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) – 2,500 in the four hotspots on the borderline islands and the rest in 5 accommodation centers in the mainland, in Pireaus Port and in the buildings of the Athens old airport in Elliniko, as well as in rented flats and hotel rooms.
Greece is currently running a contingency plan which involves setting up more reception centers and relocation sites, mainly in the north of the country, in order to respond temporarily and with dignity to the needs of large numbers of refugees (families, children, infants and elderly among them) trapped at Idomeni, because of unilateral borders closure by FYROM. The country also has already set up fully operational identification and registration centers, the so-called hotspots, for migrants and refugees arriving from Turkey in four islands (Lesvos, Chios, Samos, and Leros), while a fifth one is nearly ready (Kos). Greek authorities have been working closely with all competent EU institutions (European Commission, EASO, Frontex), as well as the UNHCR and international organizations to ensure the hotspots’ swift operation, in full respect of the refugees / migrants’ human rights and dignity.