Mitsotakis Slaps Down Turkey Over Greece's Refugee, Migrant Crisis

Αssociated press

FILE - Refugees and migrants sit inside a bus at the toll stations of Malgara, near the Greek port city of Thessaloniki. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

ATHENS – With his government trying to deal with a new crisis, Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis took a shot again at Turkey, which has allowed human traffickers to keep sending them to Greek islands during an essentially-suspended swap deal with the European Union.

There are more than 78,000 in Greece, including some 33,700 on islands near Turkey where they had first gone fleeing war and strife in their own lands, especially Syria and Afghanistan, risking the perilous sea journey to get to Greece, where their only option is to seek asylum after the EU shut its borders to them.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry had accused Greece of pushing back the rickety craft and rubber dinghies carrying them without offering any proof, prompting Mitsotakis to initially push back against the claims and then step up his criticism, saying that the government was dealing with "flows of refugees and migrants that are asymmetrical to its size and population.”

Speaking at the first day of 4th European Union-Arab World Summit, he said that "border islands are over-burdened, and sites on the mainland with (migrant/refugee) shelters are now seeing the first problems."

"Greece's Coast Guard has saved thousands of lives in the seas. At the same time, it is responsible for guarding our (sea) borders, which this government will fulfill to the fullest. Those who exploited the refugee crisis, using those fleeing persecution as pawns for their own geopolitical goals, should be more careful when they speak about Greece," he said, reported Naftemporiki.

More than 580 arrivals of refugees and migrants landed on Greek territory or being picked up by Coast Guard and EU patrol agency Frontex vessels while heading towards Greek isles were recorded Oct. 25, with 16 suspects arrested as migrant smugglers.

Mitsotakis' government said it would move thousands out of detention centers and camps on islands where they are being penned up, taking them to mainland facilities and wants to send back at least 20,000 to Turkey deemed ineligible for sanctuary as economic migrants and not as refugees whose lives would be in danger if they were returned there or home.