New Democracy Minister Says Greece Can't Handle Refugee Overload

Αssociated Press

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, FILE)

ATHENS – After another 40,000 refugees and migrants over the previous four months landed on Greek islands from Turkey – where they had gone fleeing war and strife in the Middle East and other areas – Citizens Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis told a European Parliament committee the situation is “explosive” and out of hand.

Questioned by members of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee on Greece's handling of migration, he said even if the European Union put all its weight into helping – the bloc instead closed its borders to the refugee and migrants – that “It wouldn't be able to manage this human tsunami.”

Chrysochoidis defended the government's new law that will separate refugees fearing for their lives from economic migrants who would be less likely to be able to get asylum, which virtually all the more than 78,000 in Greece, including some 33,700 on islands, are seeking.

Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he wants to speed the processing of asylum applications that can take two years or longer to be reviewed, the frustration boiling over into frequent violence in detention centers and camps.

The government also plans to accelerate deportations and wants to send 20,000 back to Turkey, which has allowed human traffickers to keep sending them during an essentially suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU.

That has drawn flak from human rights groups who said it was too stringent and would put people at risk at the same time they decried conditions in the centers and camps and the treatment of unaccompanied minors.

With sometimes hundreds more arriving by rickety craft and rubber dinghies from Turkey, landing on already-overwhelmed nearby Greek islands, Chrysochoidis said that, “It is impossible to offer hospitality at a human level at these (arrival) rate. It is a humanitarian catastrophe and a social disaster,” he said, reported Kathimerini.

Apart from financial aid the EU has done little to help, although sending agents from the border patrol Frontex at the same time other countries in the bloc reneged on promises to help take some of the overload from Greece during its long-running economic and austerity crisis.

Asked about the government's decision to abolish the Migration Policy Ministry, which was created by the previous ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, Chrysochoidis said in most countries that job falls to the Interior Ministry.

Responding to criticism by some EU lawmakers that the government did not allow time for proper public consultation over the new asylum law, he said it adopted most of the proposals from international organizations among the 332 comments submitted within six days.

Answering complaints about health care, although the camps and centers are benefiting from non-governmental organizations supplying volunteer doctors, he said that all refugee and migrant children are inoculated and all have access to medical services and that the new law makes education compulsory for all children refugees in the camps.