Greece calls on EU for fairer distribution of migrants

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Greece on Monday called on the EU for a fairer sharing of the migrant burden, amid deep concern over a sharp increase in arrivals on some islands in recent weeks.

“Since July 7, there has not been a single day without arrivals,” Deputy Minister for Citizen Protection Giorgios Koumoutsakos told the daily Kathimerini in an interview.

On five Aegean islands close to Turkey -- Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos, and Leros -- “the total number of refugees and migrants has exceeded 20,000,” said the minister, who is responsible for the migration policy in Greece’s new conservative government.

“This constitutes an increase of 17 percent in a few weeks,” he added.

Lesbos alone, the main port of arrival during the 2015 migrant crisis, had seen an increase of 44 percent compared with the same period last year, the minister continued.

“August 9 was one of the worst days during the summer period for Lesbos, as six boats with 250 people arrived,” he said.

Koumoutsakos said that a new “corridor” had been created by traffickers between the island of Samothraki and the northeastern town of Alexandroupoli on the mainland, near the border with Turkey.

For Greece, a “front-line country... which also serves as part of EU’s external border,” the issue of migratory and refugee flows was “a very difficult equation,” he said.

Greece had “exhausted its capacity on this issue (and) is looking forward to efficient cooperation with the European Commission and the member states,” the minister said.

Koutmoutsakos called for a “successful implementation” of the deal agreed between the EU and Turkey in 2016 to reduce crossings of the Aegean Sea, which constituted “a challenge and a gamble also for Europe.”

He welcomed the fact that the EU Commission’s incoming president, Germany ‘s Ursula von der Leyen, had “set the migration issue very high on her list of priorities.”

He also said he hoped that an agreement would soon be reached on the reform of Europe’s asylum system “on the basis of genuine and concrete solidarity.”

Until then, “Greece is looking forward to transitional European mechanisms, on the one hand, for a fairer sharing of the burden, and on the other, for a more effective return policy toward third countries,” Koumoutsakos said.

In 2018, more applications were submitted on Lesbos and Samos than in Austria and Finland respectively, Koumoutsakos noted, adding that during the first half of this year alone, there had been 30,500 new applications.