Thursday

9th Apr 2020

Greece migrant arrivals becoming 'unsustainable'

  • According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), more than 9,000 migrants arrived in Greece in August - the highest number of monthly arrivals in three years. (Photo: European Parliament)

Increasing numbers of migrants arriving on Greek islands are "creating unsustainable conditions" in an asylum system that was "already under great strain", a European Commission spokesperson said on Monday (30 September).

The Turkish coast guard currently stops five to seven refugee boats a day in its waters, while the Greek coastguard responds to some 30 incidents daily, according to Greek newspaper Kathimerini.

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More than 9,000 migrants arrived in Greece in August - the highest number of monthly arrivals in three years - and 41,940 migrants have arrived in the country so far in 2019, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, also said.

The situation recently prompted the Hellenic Coast Guard to send a second request within three weeks for additional assistance from the EU's border agency Frontex, Kathimerini added.

"We are in constant and very close contact with the Hellenic authorities. We are currently exploring possible reinforcement of the operational support we provide them," a Frontex spokesperson said.

Frontex is helping Greek authorities with almost 600 EU-badge wearing officers, who assist in border surveillance and identification and registration of migrants.

And the EU commission has pledged to keep up other forms of emergency assistance.

But despite the help, the conditions in migrant camps pose a risk to inmates' safety.

Two migrants died in a fire at a Greek island refugee camp called Moria on Sunday, triggering riots.

The situation at the camp was "critical" and required "urgent" action, the UNHCR said.

"We are calling to accelerate the transfers and improve conditions in Moria," its Greek spokesman noted.

For his part, the EU commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopouluos, met with Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Monday to discuss the problem.

Avramopouluos was traveling with the interior minister of Germany, Horst Seehofer, and France, Christophe Castaner, first to Greece and later to Turkey, in order to seek solutions.

Greece's response

Greece also announced a fresh package of measures to deal with the increase in irregular arrivals the same day.

The government said it would create pre-departure centres for people who had no right to asylum, Kathimerini reported.

"If the situation were to continue we'd have a repeat of 2015," the Greek civil protection minister, Michalis Chrysochoidis, said referring to the peak of the refugee crisis four years ago.

"We are going to take measures to protect our borders and we are going to be much stricter, much faster in applying them," he added.

Greece also plans to change its asylum rules.

"The asylum process in our country was the longest, the most time consuming and, in the end, the most ineffective in Europe," Greece's minister responsible for migration policy, Giorgos Koumoutsakos, told state television.

Greece's new prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, last week, also held his his first meeting with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a UN climate summit in New York, where they discussed the migration issue.

The two leaders agreed to prepare a "high-level cooperation council".

EU-Turkey deal

The EU made a deal with Turkey back in 2016 to control the flow of people to the Greek islands.

But Erdogan has, on several occasions, threatened the EU with reopening the route if he did not get more aid money.

"This either happens or otherwise we will have to open the gates," he said on 5 September.

Mitsotakis responded that Erdogan "cannot threaten Europe and Greece on the question of refugees to try and obtain more money" because Turkey had already received about €6bn to deal with this issue.

Within that amount, €5.6bn has been committed and €3.5bn has been contracted under 85 projects for humanitarian assistance, education, and health care.

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'Inhumane' Frontex forced returns going unreported

The independence of Frontex's monitoring system to make sure people are treated humanely when they are forcibly returned is in question. Efforts by some national authorities are underway to create a more credible parallel system based on transparency and scrutiny.

Frontex transparency dispute goes to EU court

The General Court of the European Union in Luxembourg will next month hold a public hearing on the refusal by Frontex, the EU's border agency, to release documents concerning its border control and surveillance operation known as Triton.

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The European Commission's possible next home affairs chief, who is responsible for creating a new pact on migration and asylum, struggled to provide MEPs any specific details on how to unblock the impasse over asylum.

Opinion

Greece needs to face reality about asylum seekers

What Greece needs is for its new government to have the courage to say what everyone knows needs to happen - namely that the large-scale returns to Turkey are off the table and that the island containment policy is unsustainable.

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