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23rd Sep 2021

Greece struggles to hit EU migrant hotspot deadline

Greece is struggling to get its refugee arrival screening zones finished by a 15 February deadline.

EU demands to have the five so-called hotspots up and running on the Aegean islands is meeting local resistance.

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On Monday (8 February), Greek minister for national defence Panos Kammenos said it would deliver on “a pledge to complete the work for the centres” by the deadline.

Greek daily Kathimerini reports that less than half the work at the proposed hotspots in Samos and Kos is completed. Work on the other sites in Lesbos, Leros and Chios is more advanced.

Last week, the Greek government sent in the army to speed up the work.

But Kos residents have slowed the work by blockading the construction site. The island's mayor has warned that the facility would curb tourism on the island.

Racism row

The hotspots, along with others set up in Italy, are a key component in a broader EU scheme to relocate some 160,000 asylum seekers across EU states.

The relocation plan has largely failed to deliver since it was launched last September. So far, only about 500 people have been relocated.

Aside from the logistical problems of chartering flights, some governments in Eastern Europe are imposing screening demands that reject Muslims and black people, reports AFP.

"They [member states] ask us not to be black, they ask us not to be big families, they ask us for more security," said Greece's interior minister for migration Yiannis Mouzalas.

Over 68,000 people have arrived seeking asylum or refuge in Greece since the start of year. Many attempt to reach mainland EU by travelling through the Western Balkans.

The UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) says roughly 60 percent entering Macedonia from Greece are now women and children.

Macedonia is erecting a second fence at the Gevgelija crossing on the Greek border to stem the inflow.

Only people from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are allowed to cross the border.

Plans are also under way to shore up the border on the Macedonian side with extra guards and possibly troops from other EU member states.

The Slovenian plan to tighten the Macedonia border was announced last month and backed by Austria.

Austria's foreign minister Sebastian Kurtz is currently touring six Western Balkan nations.

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