ATHENS – With Greece trying to deal with more than 64,000 refugees and migrants packed into island and mainland detention centers and camps for more than two years, Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas said he doesn’t want the country to become a human repository.
“As the government, we will not allow Greece to become a warehouse of souls,” he said of the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition that has come under blistering criticism from human rights groups, volunteers, activists, NGO’s and the United Nations for the conditions of the centers and lagging pace of dealing with asylum applications.
He also struck at the leaders of Hungary and Austria for political “authoritarianism” via a “fear-mongering agenda” after Europe closed its borders, dumping the problem largely on Greece, with Turkey allowing human traffickers to flood Greek islands with more refugees and migrants during a suspended swap deal with the European Union.
Hungary and Austria, along with Germany, want Greece to take back refugees and migrants who made it to their countries as the EU rules require them to have asylum only in the country where they first landed – which almost always means Greece or Italy.
Vitsas told an Athens radio station that said that “if one excludes April, where we had an increase in (refugee/migrant) flows, all of the other months witnessed a major reduction in flows in Evros (the border prefecture) and a reduction – not as noteworthy – in northeast Aegean islands.”
He said the goal is to reduce the number of Mideast war refugees and third country migrants on the islands from 17,000 now to 10,000 by the end of September. There has been frequent tension in the centers over delays in processing asylum with other EU countries reneging on pledges to help take an overload from Greece and the European migration commissioner, Greece’s Dimitris Avramopoulos, not forcing them to help.
Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer warned there will be mass returns of migrants if Greece doesn’t take them voluntarily, as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Seehofter told Der Spiegel, Seehofer said the absence of bilateral deals was “not a good strategy” and that Germany will start returning migrants reaching its border if something isn’t done.
Alexander Dobrindt of the Christian Social Union said he believed German plans to return asylum seekers to European Union countries of first entry would not necessarily be met by cooperation.
“Whoever is not in a position to honor fundamental European regulations cannot expect cooperation in other areas,” he said.
German Defense Minister Ursula Von der Leyen said, however, Greece will cooperate. “We want an agreement with Greece by the end of the month,” she told the Funke publishing group, adding that such an accord could be an example for other countries.