European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos on Friday stressed the importance of keeping alive an agreement between Ankara and the European Union to crack down on human smuggling in the Aegean after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to unleash a wave of migrants on Europe.
“The agreement must be honored at all costs,” Avramopoulos said during a meeting with President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.
The president struck a similar tone, saying that “everyone must keep their promises” and that Erdogan’s comments are not beneficial to Turkey.
Erdogan’s threat came after MEPs voted on Thursday to freeze EU accession talks with Turkey in protest at Ankara’s “disproportionate” reaction to a failed coup in the country in July.
The rift between Ankara and Brussels has unsettled Athens as tensions are already high in overcrowded reception centers for migrants on Aegean islands and a new wave of refugees would cause serious upheaval.
At crisis meetings in recent days involving officials at the Migration Ministry and Citizens’ Protection Ministry, there were proposals for migrants to be transferred from island centers to the mainland to free up space, Kathimerini understands.
The government had been keen to avoid the en masse transfer of migrants to the mainland, fearing it would prompt a new wave of arrivals from Turkey. According to the plan, migrants sent to the mainland would be returned to Turkey via Evros in northern Greece.
The government came under more pressure after the deadly fire Thursday night at the Moria processing center on Lesvos, which led to the death of a woman and a child and the serious injury of two others.
Tsipras expressed his condolences to the family of the victims, saying he was “shocked” by the incident.
The 60-year-old woman and her 5-year-old grandchild, both Iraqi Kurds, died when their tent caught fire after a cooking gas canister exploded.
The tragedy led to fresh criticism of Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas by opposition parties regarding overcrowded conditions at camps on the eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos, Samos, Kos and Chios which are putting migrants at risk, and for failing to make adequate preparations for the onset of winter. Mouzalas said he hoped that from December onward between 100 and 200 migrants will be returned daily to Turkey.
However, with a further 784 arrivals alone in the last week, the camps are bursting at the seams, while islanders are demanding the removal of all migrants. Mouzalas said the only option available at the moment would be the creation of additional facilities to decongest the camps, but the idea has been resisted by local residents.