NEWS

Greece strives to absorb migrants as Juncker heralds stricter border controls

TAGS: Migration, Politics, Education

As Greece struggles to absorb a continuing influx of migrants into already overcrowded reception centers and assimilate refugees into society, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday said that the bloc would introduce stricter controls on its external borders.

In his annual policy speech, Juncker declared, “we will defend our borders.” “We will be very strict in terms of who can cross our borders and this is something that we are looking to implement by the end of the year,” he said, referring to the new European Border and Coast Guard, which is to be mobilized next month.

In Greece concerns are mounting about a continuing influx of migrants reaching the Aegean islands from Turkey as reception centers are already cramped.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is expected to broach the subject at an EU leaders summit in Bratislava on Friday, most likely with the support of other EU leaders who joined him for an “EU-Mediterranean” summit in Athens last week.

Another 79 migrants arrived in Greece from Turkey yesterday, bringing the number on Lesvos, Kos, Samos, Chios and Leros to 13,195 and the nationwide total to 60,117.

The prolonged presence of thousands of migrants in camps has led to tensions rising both inside the centers and in local communities.

At the main port of Chios on Wednesday, hundreds of residents gathered to protest against the presence of 3,584 migrants on the island.

On Lesvos, where 5,627 migrants are being hosted, there are frequent protests by migrants.

Residents of the island are running out of patience too and those living near the Moria camp are to stage a sitin at the local school next Monday.

Meanwhile, the opposition of a parents’ organization in Oraiokastro, near Thessaloniki, to plans for refugee children to join Greek primary schools this month prompted the intervention of a prosecutor on Wednesday.

Thessaloniki court of first instance prosecutor Syrmo Kakali ordered a probe to determine whether the parents’ group or the mayor of Oraiokastro, Asterios Gavotsis, who last week called on residents to take matters into their own hands, should be charged with racist offenses.

The parents’ group appeared to shift its stance on Wednesday, with its leader, Nikos Koritsis, indicating in comments to Kathimerini that the group’s decision was based on a statement by the municipal council which referred to cases of tuberculosis and hepatitis in the nearby reception center.

“The statement wasn’t properly phrased,” he said, adding that he was going to call another meeting so parents could decide anew.

In the vote by the parents’ group to block refugee children from schools, mother-of-four Katerina Karanikolaou was one of the few to oppose the motion.

She blamed last week’s speech by the mayor for spreading fear. “He’s a doctor and he spoke about hepatitis and tuberculosis,” she said.

“He had a leaflet ready which said that refugee children have contagious diseases,” she said, adding that “then the atmosphere of fear and racism spread.”

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