ATHENS – The numbers of refugees and migrants entering Greece have fallen dramatically since Europe closed its doors to them, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said.
His government is under pressure to deal with 53,000 stranded in the country since a European Union swap deal with Turkey was suspended almost as soon as it began earlier this month because Greece couldn’t deal with overwhelming numbers of asylum claims.
Hundreds have died trying to make the short but perilous journey from Turkey to Greek islands. Turkey did almost nothing to stop human traffickers until signing a deal with the EU that would bring six billion euros, visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and a fast-track entry into the bloc.
“A few months ago we had flows of 3,000 to 4,000 daily to our islands … Today, the flows are about 50 to 60 (migrants and refugees) daily,” Tsipras told parliament during a debate on security.
Greece’s Defence Minister Panos Kammenos met his German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen in Athens and said that NATO’s presence in the Aegean has also curtailed smugglers and people fleeing war zones on rubber dinghies and rickety overcrowded craft.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is expected to visit Athens later this week, according to government officials, Reuters reported.
Von Der Leyen urged migrants stranded at a makeshift camp on Greece’s northern border with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to move to official shelters but some 11,000 are still there, hoping the border will one day open.
Athens has set up accommodation for more than 50,000 people, she said, calling the move “a clear message for refugees that there are now well-equipped camps in which the reception is possible according to all standards.”
Critics, however, said Greece has created detention centers with bad conditions and that the EU-Turkey deal, which catches Greece in the crossfire, is unlawful.