NEWS

Island hot spots to open in 2 months, PM tells Merkel

island-hot-spots-to-open-in-2-months-pm-tells-merkel

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the sidelines of a European Union summit on migration in Brussels Friday and reassured her that screening centers for migrants being set up on Aegean islands, the so-called hot spots, will be ready in two months’ time.

The meeting came on the second day of a two-day summit that saw both Tsipras and his Turkish counterpart Ahment Davutoglu, who also attended, come under pressure over their handling of a migrant influx heading from Africa and Asia into Europe. Merkel was said to have been critical of Greek delays in setting up hot spots on five Greek islands.

In the meeting Friday, sources said, Tsipras said Greece is open to receiving know-how from Frontex, the EU’s border monitoring agency, but noted that Greek requests for additional border guards have not been fully satisfied. Only half the guards requested by Greece have been dispatched and those who have been sent do not work beyond standard office hours, Tsipras is said to have complained. In recent weeks, Greek officials have noted that most smuggling vessels reach Aegean islands in the early hours; as a result staff must be on for registrations around the clock.

Frontex said Friday that it will increase its presence in Greece at the end of the month, starting on December 28, leading to the eventual mobilization of 376 staff including experts in screening and tracing forged documents.

At the summit Friday, Tsipras also took the opportunity to stress to Merkel that the only effective way of curbing a relentless influx of migrants toward Europe via Greece is to activate a permanent system for relocating refugees directly from Turkey to EU member-states. This would also be a way of gradually put trafficking rackets that operate along the Turkish coastline out of business.

It was unclear what Merkel’s response was to this proposal but some EU leaders said relocations from Turkey should not begin until Ankara honors a recent pledge to the EU to curb migrant flows. Only a small dip in arrivals on the Aegean islands has been recorded in recent days and human rights groups attribute this to the worsening weather.

Commenting at the end of the summit, Tsipras indicated that Greece had defended its own national interests and the rights of migrants and refugees despite skepticism from some European governments. “Greece has been able to defend its own position and well as the universal humanitarian values of solidarity, democracy and social cohesion,” he said.

The summit set an end-of-June deadline for an agreement on a new border and coast guard force that can be mobilized without the host country’s consent in emergency situations. In the meantime, the Dublin II agreement, which dictates that refugees lodge asylum claims in the first EU country they enter, is to be put up for revision.

Another key conclusion of the summit is for gaps along the EU’s border to be better patrolled and for hot spots to become operational as soon as possible.