Greek Gov’t Spokesperson: What Started as a Refugee Issue Is Now More a Migration Issue

February 27, 2020

ATHENS – Government spokesperson Stelios Petsas on Thursday underlined that closed migrant facilities on the islands are a cornerstone of the government’s plan for discouraging illegal migration and that their construction will go ahead, despite the islanders’ opposition.

Speaking on SKAI TV, he said that the first phase of construction was completed on Wednesday on Lesvos and is due to be completed on Chios on Thursday. “We are making an effort to resume talks with the islands’ local authority leadership and to see how we can dial down the reactions, as the prime minister urged yesterday and as, as I imagine, the islanders also want,” he said.

Asked about the violent incidents on the island, whether these had been incited and by who, he said the government is “examining all the evidence, lawsuits are being prepared and everything will take its course.”

He also reiterated that three things were necessary for the decongestion of the islands, including the building of the closed migrant hosting structures, speeding up the asylum process – which he said the government had succeeded in doing – while the third and final thing was to do everything possible to increase returns to Turkey.

Petsas explained that of the approximately 93,000 applicants for asylum, 17,000 are from Syria and over 30,000 from Afghanistan. “So the issue started as a refugee issue and has now changed. It is more a migration than a refugee matter. If you send all these people to mainland Greece, Turkey will cite the EU-Turkey Agreement and not accept the return of those not entitled to asylum. So, do we want 34,000 Afghans to be on the mainland and stay in Greece, based on SYRIZA’s proposal? We do not want this,” he said.


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