ATHENS — The interior ministers of the five Mediterranean countries on the front line of mass migration to Europe are meeting in Greece to discuss the European Union's policies as the bloc works toward a new migration pact.
Ministers from Italy, Spain, Malta, Cyprus and Greece are to arrive in Athens Friday evening for talks on Saturday. The five created the "MED 5" group last year in an effort to form a united front within the EU.
Southern European countries with extensive coastlines have borne the brunt of arriving asylum-seekers hoping to enter the EU. Most Europe-bound migrants travel by boat on dangerous maritime smuggling routes, either from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands or across the Mediterranean from north Africa. Thousands have died in shipwrecks.
Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said all five countries "consider that the (EU's) new migration and asylum pact must ensure in practice the balance between the de facto responsibility that the member-states at the forefront of the migration issue undertake, and the solidarity that our partners in the European Union must show."
The five nations have long called for a more equitable distribution of asylum-seekers who make it to Europe, including for other EU members to accept new arrivals.
"We will undertake our responsibilities as countries of first reception. The rest of the member states must support us in the issue of the just distribution of migrants," Mitarach said during a news conference earlier this week.
The minister said there must be "basic improvement" on the European Commission's initial proposals for the EU's new migration pact.
"Our countries cannot protect the borders, and shoulder a disproportionate burden, especially in border areas, and examine asylum applications, and provide protection for the vulnerable, and return those who are not entitled to international protection, and integrate recognized refugees," he said.
Participating in the meeting are the Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese, Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska Gómez, Cypriot Interior Minister Nicos Nouris and Malta's Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri.
The conference will start in a central hotel in Athens' southern suburbs while at 09:00 on Saturday the ministers are scheduled to meet with European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas while a meeting with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will follow at 14:00.
In the two working sessions that according to programme will be held during the day , the ministers willl exchange views on the protection of the borders and on returns and also the solidarity that the other countries should show regarding relocation.