On a visit to Lesvos on Thursday with European Parliament President Martin Schulz, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Greece cannot cope with the burgeoning refugee crisis, and put the onus on Turkey, while Schulz conceded that the situation on the eastern Aegean island is “dramatic.”
The two men witnessed a dinghy with refugees reaching the island’s shoreline and visited migrant reception and registration centers, as well as speaking with migrants and refugees waiting to leave Lesvos.
Tsipras said Greece is “battling something beyond our abilities” and that the only way to effectively stop the “criminal” activities of human smugglers was for the identification and registration of refugees to be carried out on the Turkish coastline.
Tsipras also sought to douse speculation about the possible removal of a fence on the Greek-Turkish border as a way of discouraging migrants from taking the Aegean route, noting that land mines in the region of Evros also pose a risk.
“Our dilemma is not whether they die in the Aegean or on the land mines of Evros,” he said. “The point is for refugees not to lose their lives.”
Schulz hailed the work done by Greek authorities, adding however that more needed to be done. He called on Greek authorities to ensure that five so-called hotspots – facilities for registering refugees – are set up as soon as possible. He also underlined the need for an “honest discussion” with Turkey on cooperation to tackle the problem.
The visit by the two leaders came as the Hellenic Coast Guard recovered the bodies of two men and a boy from the island’s shoreline.