ATHENS (AP) — Greece said Friday it will call on the European Union to impose sanctions on member states that refuse to accept refugees, as senior European officials visited Ankara and Athens to try and stem a surge in migrant arrivals overwhelming Greek islands.
A group of central and eastern EU nations including Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic have opposed mandatory EU relocation quotas for refugees — an action that Athens says puts an unfair burden on border member states like Greece, Spain, and Italy.
“I will say this clearly: I will raise the issue of specific sanctions for European countries that refuse to take part in a fair distribution of refugees on a European level,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.
“It is an act of hypocrisy,” he added. “You cannot enjoy the benefits of (border-free travel and trade) and not accept 1,000 or 2,000 refugees as part of EU management of the issue.”
A summer spike in arrivals of migrants and refugees from Turkey has caused severe overcrowding at refugee camps on nearby Greek islands including Lesbos and Samos where largest camps are located.
EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer were in Turkey and then traveled on to Greece Friday, as European officials are pressing for a restart of deportations from Greece to Turkey of migrants whose asylum applications have been rejected or are not in need of international protection.
“Irregular arrivals to Greece increased over the past weeks and months,” Avramopoulos said. “There is an urgent need to further strengthen the prevention and detection of irregular departures from Turkey.”
The deportations were agreed as part of a landmark 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey worth 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) in financial assistance.
The meetings in Ankara followed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying his country can’t shoulder hosting 3.6 million Syrian refugees alone and could “open the gates” for migrants to head for Europe.
Turkey is seeking European support for plans to create a so-called “safe zone” in northeast Syria where Turkey hopes to resettle some 2 million of its Syrian refugees. It also says the EU has fallen behind on assistance payments and wants to discuss further assistance.
“Turkey has fulfilled all of its obligations,” Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said. Friday. “It is our expectation that the EU (will) adopt the same stance.”
By DEREK GATOPOULOS and SUZAN FRASER Associated Press
Lorne Cook in Brussels and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.