Mitsotakis: Most Arrivals in Greece Now Are Economic Migrants, Not Refugees

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis addressing the parliament during the prime minister's question time, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Yiannis Panagopoulos)

Greece is now facing a migrant issue and not a refugee issue, as was the case in 2015, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday, addressing the parliament during the prime minister’s question time. He also stressed the need to update the 2016 EU-Turkey agreement on handling refugees and migrants and noted that migration was “here to stay”.

Responding to a question raised by MeRA25 leader Yanis Varoufakis regarding the abolition of the Moria camp, Mitsotakis explained that the majority of those now arriving in Greece illegally were economic migrants, not refugees. “Only two in 10 are Syrians,” he pointed out.

Varoufakis had asked the prime minister to inform Parliament whether he intends to close down the Moria camp and whether he will “abolish internal borders that deprive migrants of the right to free movement within the country.”

Mitsotakis has also been asked to present the timetable regarding the establishment of a series of small facilities across the country to integrate migrant families currently in Moria into local communities, in a way that benefits both local communities and the refugees.

Rebuffing criticism from main opposition SYRIZA, meanwhile, Mitsotakis pointed out that his government took over a backlog of 69,387 pending asylum applications left by the previous SYRIZA government and was now being criticised “by those who did nothing for idealogical reasons.”

He stressed that the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) was now permanently installed in Greece to investigate the wastage of funds for migrants. Mitsotakis also spoke of a “policy of hypocrisy” on the part of SYRIZA and the absence of border protection.

He reiterated that this policy is now changing through concrete actions, specifically noting changes in the procedures for granting asylum.

Elaborating, Mitsotakis said that the new law will incorporate both Community directives and national policies, adding: “The provision is that foreigners who do not comply with their transfer to other facilities will be cosidered not to desire the special status and the process for their return will begin. Vulnerable populations will be considered those included in the directive and this will not include post-traumatic stress. A list of safe return countries and third countries will apply.”

Those who are entitled to protection and are cooperative will remain in the system. Children must to school, but parents who refuse will face sanctions. There will also be changes to the regime concerning NGOs to enhance control, accountability and transparency, Mitsotakis said.

Protection of Greece’s borders had also been enhanced by increased observation posts along the land borders and increased coast guard patrols at sea, the prime minister added.

He noted that more than 20,000 asylum seekers are being moved from the islands to the mainland and also announced plans to set up closed pre-departure centres. He criticised the previous government for – as he said – disagreeing with the EU-Turkey agreement.

Mitsotakis stressed that he will seek to internationalise the issue, which he said required a comprehensive approach from the EU, adding that he intends to raise this issue at the next EU summit.

Noting that the 2016 EU-Turkey Statement on migration needs to be updated, the prime minister said that Turkey was able to control migrant flows and that Ankara must not be seen to view this issue as an element in negotiations.

The prime minister concluded by underlining that the migrant issue was “here to stay,” and that handling it required both national unity and European solidarity.