NEWS

Greece is willing to give help to refugees, but not on the territory of European Union member states

However many refugees there may be, they are to be kept out of Europe. That is the substance of a decision, taken by the 15 EU ministers responsible for the issue, on the influx of refugees they expect will be generated by the war on Iraq. They would deal with the problem, they decided, but not on European soil. Last Friday and Saturday, at an informal meeting in Veria, EU public order, interior and justice ministers chose to fund the creation of reception and hospitality centers for refugees in Iraq and countries that border on it. This step represents an extension of the measures taken «to protect and manage the external borders of the EU.» The decision stems from the view of many EU members, principally Greece, that they cannot handle any more immigrants. They also believe this measure will facilitate the repatriation of refugees when circumstances permit. Greek Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, who chaired the meeting, said that the decision has the support of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). More refugees No matter how many measures are taken, however, refugees from Iraq will make their way to EU countries, at least to Greece, though the influx is expected to be limited, as Turkey will manage the flow with great care. The concern of the Greek authorities at the prospect of large numbers of refugees arriving has led to the adoption of the Balkanios and Posidonia programs that specify which agencies will be responsible for implementing various programs dealing with immigrants and will prepare potential refugee hospitality areas. Eight large reception areas have already been prepared in central Greece, Epirus and northern Greece through the Balkanios program. These areas, on which some basic work has been done, will be boosted by the addition of prefabricated buildings, as the need arises. The areas are chiefly disused army camps which can, if necessary, house tens of thousands of people. If they are eventually used as camps, the army will not be involved in any way in guarding them or in providing security, tasks for which the Public Order Ministry will have the sole responsibility. Local prefectures will be in charge of providing accommodation and food for the refugees, while the Health Ministry will be responsible for health matters. The authorities expect that the influx of refugees will not happen within the next two months, but that when it does, it will be impossible to hold it back, despite beefed-up measures to protect Greek borders. In that case, the country will be in a difficult situation, since it already has an estimated 1,300,000 legal and illegal migrants. Unfavorable The inadequate management of migrants within the EU, coupled with the war on Iraq, contribute to an unfavorable environment for debating matters concerning social policy on migrants, such as their integration into the society of the countries they end up in. In this climate, it seems that the Greek EU presidency has abandoned any ambition it may have had to promote directives with a strong social component, such as the directive for long-term migrants in the EU. Rather, it is concentrating its efforts on formulating common policies on matters such as asylum, the creation of a common body to guard the EU’s external borders and the repatriation of migrants. These are all matters which were on Chrysochoidis’s agenda and on which decisions will probably be made. Asylum A British minister made a proposal for holding areas in non-EU countries, where illegal immigrants and asylum seekers could be assembled. Their asylum applications would be examined there and granted to those deemed to have met the requirements, and from there they would be allocated to EU member states. This proposal was accepted for discussion by the commissioner for justice and home affairs, Antonio Vittorino, as it was in line with the direction of current debates in Europe on the question of asylum. But some countries feared that the proposal would lead to the creation of what they called «concentration camps» outside the EU. As for funding, the European Council is expected to define the criteria for allocating funds to those member states which receive large numbers of immigrants, according to the location of the country, the nature of its borders and expenditure on putting infrastructure for immigrants into place. Agreement also seems likely on a proposal for the formation of a common border protection agency, which will follow member states’ common plans and programs for border protection and establish methods of dealing with emergencies. A joint proposal by Greece, Italy and Spain on the repatriation of migrants appears to have won the agreement of the other members. Next week, two EU commissioners, Antonio Vittorino and Anna Diamantopoulou, will submit a proposal for the implementation of pilot integration programs for migrants.