Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday said he would visit Turkey for key refugee talks this month as he called for the faster release of EU aid funds for the crisis.
“On behalf of the EU I will have the opportunity to discuss … issues related to a more substantial cooperation between the EU and Turkey on the refugee issue,” Tsipras told a news conference, adding that the visit would take place in mid-November.
Greece, a gateway for the bulk of over 750,000 arrivals from the Mediterranean Sea this year – mostly families fleeing the civil war in Syria – wants Turkey to play a more active role in registering the refugees and migrants on its soil.
“It's very important for us that this procedure be carried over, sooner or later, I hope sooner, to the other side of the Aegean,” Tsipras said, reiterating a call “to have Turkey handling the resettlement procedure from reception centres there that exist or will be created”.
Tsipras on Wednesday was present alongside senior European officials as six Iraqi and Syrian families were put on a plane to Luxembourg, initiating Greece’s participation in an EU scheme to share some 160,000 refugees among member states.
Hundreds of refugees have died trying to cross the Aegean in barely seaworthy vessels this year.
Five more people including a woman and two children died early on Wednesday off the island of Lesvos, the Greek coastguard said.
Tsipras said Greece would continue meeting its responsibilities despite facing an “incalculable” cost to rescue, register and feed the refugees.
“We have only received 5.9 million euros ($6.5 million) in European funds since the (refugee) crisis began,” he said.
“Imagine how much we spend on a daily basis to keep the coastguard, army, police and municipal staff on 24-hour alert, to transport, provide first aid and feed these people,” he said.
“But we cannot put a price… on humanity, on a warm embrace for children drowning in the sea,” he added.
Greece plans to provide temporary accommodation to an additional 20,000 refugees by the end of January, the PM said.