The government is planning to open a new center for refugees on the site of the Greek capital’s old international airport at Elliniko, in southeastern Athens, Alternate Immigration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas told mayors from the broader area Monday as authorities scramble to deal with a burgeoning migration crisis.
In his meeting Monday with the mayors of Elliniko, Palaio Faliro, Glyfada and Alimos, Mouzalas did not determine whether the center would be just for refugees or also for economic migrants nor exactly how it would operate.
The meeting came following protests by the mayors, who are concerned about venues in their areas being overwhelmed by thousands of migrants pouring into Athens after arriving on the Aegean islands from Turkey.
After police dismantled a makeshift migrants’ camp near the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia last week, following a decision by FYROM to filter migrants by nationality, more than 2,000 migrants were bused to the Greek capital. Of those, around 1,000 have been staying at the Tae Kwon Do Stadium, a former Olympic venue, in Palaio Faliro for the past few days. Scuffles between groups of migrants have broken out on several occasions, prompting the intervention of riot police. A group of more than 100 Moroccan immigrants were transferred to a detention center in Corinth on Monday as speculation mounted that authorities would be obliged to reopen a highly criticized detention facility at Amygdaleza, north of Athens.
Greek authorities are said to be concerned by the fact that an increasing number of migrants arriving in Greece are not from war zones but are economic migrants from countries such as Morocco and Myanmar.
Mouzalas on Monday did not conceal his concern about the migration crisis. He drew an analogy between the relentless influx of migrants who are unable to leave the country and a bottleneck when the pressure becomes too much to bear, saying the bottle was bound to break.
The migration problem is to be discussed at an EU leaders’ summit on Thursday and Friday. Ahead of the meeting, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is due to visit migrant reception centers that have been set up on the Aegean islands of Leros and Chios tomorrow to check on their operation.
Although the situation on the islands remains a concern, a new source of worry is the thousands of migrants who end up in Athens and other major cities as they are unable to leave Greece.
Visiting European Union officials Monday pledged to spend 80 million euros on a housing scheme for migrants and asylum speakers stranded in Greece. Kristalina Georgieva, the EU commissioner for budget and human resources, signed an agreement for a rent subsidy program for up to 20,000 people next year.
According to sources, Greek authorities told European officials that they will create accommodation for up to 30,000 by early next year.
Greece is keen to ensure that Turkey makes good on a pledge to the EU to crack down on smugglers packing boats with migrants along the Turkish coast.
However, government sources did not confirm that a meeting between Tsipras, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in the works, despite claims by Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias that such a meeting was expected in early February.