Greece and the United Nations refugee agency on Wednesday agreed to strengthen cooperation in handling migration flows to Europe’s external frontier while urging the European Union to hasten the relocation of migrants and refugees elsewhere within the bloc.
“Challenges are very serious and we need to continue to address them together. Especially living conditions, security in refugee sites, overcrowding in islands,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said after meeting with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens.
The Italian diplomat, who is in Greece for three days, also visited an Athens apartment hosting a Syrian family who are candidates for relocation. Speaking to journalists, Grandi said he would press the EU to step up and expand a relocation scheme that has left a lot to be desired since it was agreed upon last year.
“It is one example of European solidarity and cooperation that can and must work so we need to put all our energy in trying to make it work,” he said while praising Greece’s role in handling the crisis. The EU has relocated just 4,000 of the promised 160,000 refugees it has pledged to relocate from frontline states.
In his comments, Tsipras said that despite the hardships, Greece has “managed to project the human face of Europe.”
“However, it is most important that we try to reach a final solution… in Syria. Recent developments do not inspire much optimism,” he added.
On Wednesday, Syrian rebels backed by Turkish special forces, tanks and warplanes entered one of the so-called Islamic State’s last strongholds on the Turkish-Syrian border. Syria condemned the incursion as a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty, while Kurdish militants said the action amounted to a “declaration of war.”
Meanwhile, police in northern Greece on Wednesday arrested 12 undocumented migrants, all Pakistani nationals, trying to illegally cross into Greece from Turkey via the Evros River on a small plastic boat. Two suspected smugglers were also arrested, police said.