European Union officials saw for themselves on Friday the difficulties faced by authorities on eastern Aegean islands coping with the refugee crisis and pledged immediate assistance for Greece.
European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans and European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulous visited Kos Friday to get a clearer picture of the situation on the ground.
Their visit came a few hours after Amnesty International said that a group of around 25 Greeks brandishing bats attacked migrants and refugees on the island. The rights group described conditions on Kos, where there are some 4,000 refugees at the moment, as “hellish.”
“We are facing a moment of truth in European history,” Timmermans said during his visit. “We can succeed jointly and united, or we can fail each in our own way, in our own country, on our own islands.”
Avramopoulos pledged that an operations center would be set up in Piraeus by September 14 to help manage the flow of refugees. With the help of officials that will be sent to Greece by the EU, Greek authorities will be able to register and redistribute the refugees.
The commissioner added that the government would soon receive an initial installment of 33 million euros from Brussels to help with the cost of managing the flow of refugees and migrants, which has seen almost 250,000 people arrive in Greece this year.
Caretaker Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas is expected on Lesvos on Sunday. Police on the island used stun grenades early Friday as hundreds of people tried to board a ferry bound for Piraeus. This prompted authorities to clear the port area, where thousands of refugees and migrants had gathered.
There were reports Friday that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is going to try to force member-states to accept quotas of refugees when he makes his annual State of the Union address in the European Parliament next week.
In June, the 28 government leaders rejected that as a diktat from Brussels and said they would reach Juncker’s then target of 40,000 people through voluntary offers. Pledges, however, have reached only 32,000. And Juncker now plans to ask for 160,000, Reuters reported.