BRUSSELS - After saying he had the power to make them do it - but wouldn’t - European Commission Migration chief Dimitris Avramopoulos now has turned to pleading with them to meet quotas to take refugees and migrants from overwhelmed Greece and Italy.
Fewer than 14,500 asylum seekers have been relocated under the two-year plan that was supposed to cover 160,000 people and expires in September.
Some 64,000 are stuck in Greece with the suspension of a European Union swap deal with Turkey, including nearly 14,000 on Aegean islands, the first choice for those fleeing war torn countries in hopes of reaching more prosperous countries.
The EU has closed its borders to them and also planning to return those who got into other countries and ship them back to Greece under regulations which stipulate they can seek asylum only in the first country in which they land, almost always Greece or Italy.
Speaking ahead of an EU Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in Brussels yesterday, Avramopoulos, said Europe must offer protection to those who need it but has the right to ship illegals out.
“We must build a Europe that is safe for all its citizens,” he said after representatives from a citizens group on the island of Chios upset so many refugees are being hosted there testified in the European Parliament.
The group is reportedly considering challenging the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal aimed at curbing refugee flows in the Aegean at the European Court of Justice, Kathimerini said.
A total 3,580 migrants and refugees are currently stranded on Chios, according to official figures and another 74 landed there between March 27-28.
Avramopoulos earlier in March said Turkey will unleash three million refugees on Greece unless a European Union swap deal is upheld.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan got an agreement for six billion euros, visa-free travel in the bloc for Turkish citizens and faster entry into the EU as part the deal that has been suspended because of an overwhelming number of refugees in Greece seeking asylum after Europe closed its borders to them.
Before the deal, Erdogan let human traffickers ship refugees and migrants, most fleeing Syria’s civil war, to nearby Aegean islands where Greek officials have been left mostly on their own to deal with them.
Refugees and migrants in Greece are being housed n camps and detention centers, stuck in limbo with no place to go – unable to move on to other EU countries and fighting deportation back to Turkey.
Avramopoulos, who on March 21 warned EU countries they have to take in refugees as promised has also said he can’t do anything to make them meet their word.
He spoke then in Poland, whose Euroskeptic government rejected a mandatory quota agreed on by EU leaders in September, 2015, and has taken in none of the nearly 6,200 migrants allocated to it.
Avramopoulos has the power to sue countries for failing to meet the deal but hasn’t and has largely stayed out of the crisis apart from visits to the island of Lesbos in his homeland. The Commission has said forcing EU countries to live up to deals they sign is too politically sensitive to enforce.
“It is important for governments to understand that they should be part of it,” Avramopoulos told a news conference in Warsaw. “If some of them do not comply… the Commission has the power, the tools to convince these countries,” even though he hasn’t yet.
Some 1.6 million refugees and migrants reached the European Union between 2014 and 2016 and how to handle them has been a major point of contention between member states.
In comments during a visit to Athens then, Avramopoulos said the deal signed last year between Turkey and the EU had reduced an influx of migrants toward Europe and curbed deaths at sea.