Greek officials gave assurances on Wednesday that the country will live up to its commitments on the refugee crisis after the European Commission warned that authorities are not abiding by Schengen zone rules and this could lead to border controls being reimposed by neighboring countries in three months.
“We will be absolutely ready next month,” said Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras regarding Athens’s pledge to have at least another three “hot spots” – on Samos, Leros and Chios – up and running before the end of February. It is likely that Greece will have to show significant progress in preparing the registration centers by the EU leaders’ summit on February 17-18.
Alternate Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas also promised that the hots spots would be ready in February and “operational in March.”
Work is currently under way at each of the three sites in question. Prefabricated huts have already been delivered to two of the hot spots, on Leros and Chios. Nevertheless, local officials suggest that there is some doubt as to whether the work will be completed before the end of February.
Tsipras and Mouzalas reacted to a warning from the European Commission, which said on Wednesday that Greece could face more border controls with other states in May if it does not fix “serious deficiencies” in its management of the free-travel Schengen zone’s external frontier.
A report by EU inspectors concluded that Greece had “seriously neglected” its obligations to fellow Schengen states by failing to identify and properly register migrants and refugees.
Athens hit back at the accusations and argued that the situation had improved over the past few weeks. Police sources told Kathimerini that there are now 68 fingerprint scanning machines that are connected to the EU’s Eurodac database being used in the eastern Aegean.
“We think that trying to isolate Greece is not constructive,” said government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili.
Greek authorities also underlined the difficulties they are encountering with the refugee relocation program and the return of migrants to Turkey. Since the scheme to relocate a total of 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy was launched in September, Athens has only been offered places for 595 people, of whom 414 have been transferred abroad so far. Athens says 12 EU countries have not enlisted in the program at all.
Officials also underlined the problem of sending migrants back to Turkey, saying that Ankara only accepts requests for about half of the people that Greece wants to deport.