NEWS

Creating reception centers to house those fleeing war

Greece’s preparations toward receiving a possible wave of refugees fleeing the Iraq war consists of two plans, «Balkan» and «Poseidon,» which are already in force, a few hundred thousand euros from the state budget and eight large unused military camps with the potential capacity for housing tens of thousands of people. According to the authorities, there is not likely to be any influx of refugees within the next a month or two, not until after the first refugees reach the Turkish border. However, the subject is to be raised at an interministerial committee mainly for the purpose of reviewing the situation at the borders and in order to decide on the amount of funds needed in the near future. The sum of 300,000 euros, set aside in the state budget for the «management» of immigration, has long since been used up. And, according to new estimates, at least another 1.5 million euros will be needed to care for the refugees already here, let alone any more. For example, the prefecture of Evros already owes food suppliers 650,000 euros for the needs of the 150 refugees already in its territory. In accordance with the «Balkan» plan, eight large sites in Central Greece, Epirus and Northern Greece have been made ready. Interior Ministry sources say these sites will be furnished with prefabricated buildings according to need. The same plan establishes the powers of those involved in managing these refugee camps. One of the basic provisions is the non-involvement of any military authority in guarding the sites, as these tasks will be carried out by the Public Order Ministry. Local prefectural authorities will be responsible for housing and feeding the refugees, and the Health Ministry will also be involved. Of course, it is doubtful whether these measures will be sufficient if the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees predictions of 600,000 Iraq war refugees are confirmed. Of these, 200,000 are expected to head for Europe, via Turkey and Greece. Interior Ministry sources say that the situation at the borders is «serious.» Although the estimate of 300,000 «prospective» refugees waiting at the border in Turkish territory has been slightly reduced, there is still a major problem. No one is being repatriated, nor is asylum being granted, although thousands have applied. According to the same sources, Turkey has never actually activated the agreement on repatriation, while the consular officials of the refugees’ countries of origin deny that they are their citizens, as most of the refugees destroy their travel documents once they are arrested. Entry of new arrivals The government’s decision to do everything in its power to avert the influx of new refugees is still valid, but as this appears to be impossible to enforce, Greece will ask the European Union for help in redirecting refugees to other European states. It also seems certain that Greece will try to repatriate «war refugees.» The entire question of immigration policy is expected to be discussed yet again at a Cabinet meeting tomorrow. Due to considerable differences of opinion between EU member states, it will be extremely difficult to establish a joint immigration policy or even promote existing directives (apart from the one on uniting families). In Veria, in northern Greece, there is to be an informal meeting of EU ministers (of the interior, justice and public order) on the entire question of immigration and the effects of the war.