Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met top European officials including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu in London on Thursday for talks on the refugee crisis that Greek officials interpreted as the first sign of serious pressure on Turkey to contribute to Europe’s management of the problem.
According to Greek government sources, the leaders agreed that 3 billion euros in EU funding promised to Ankara in exchange for greater efforts to control migration flows toward Europe would be disbursed gradually and subject to Turkish authorities meeting their commitments.
Athens insists that refugees be relocated directly to the European Union from Turkey, and not cross through Greece, and that Turkey honor a migrant repatriation pact with Greece.
In the meeting, which was also attended by Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and European Council President Donald Tusk, Tsipras emphasized the huge efforts being made by Greek authorities to manage the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants and called for a more comprehensive European approach to the problem as well as political pressure for a solution in war-torn Syria. Tsipras also discussed the problem with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
On the domestic front, efforts continued to set up a series of screening centers, or hot spots, for migrants and refugees on five eastern Aegean islands.
Following the announcement earlier this week that the military will oversee the creation of the centers, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos flew to Kos to inspect progress.
But a protest by local residents who oppose the creation of a hot spot prevented his helicopter from landing on the island’s heliport, obliging it to fly further inland and Kammenos and his retinue to disembark in the middle of a field. Authorities are particularly concerned about local opposition on Kos while preparations are under way on Chios and Leros and have been completed on Lesvos and Samos.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who is due in Athens on Friday for talks that are expected to focus on the refugee crisis, told Kathimerini in a written interview that the European Union should support Greece in its efforts to respond to the problem but said he was expecting Greece “to do its fair share” of the effort, underlining the need for hot spots.
“We all have to do our homework, the European Commission and member-states,” he said, adding that that all parties should “honor agreements and European law.” “It is on these criteria that Greece’s contribution will be judged.”
Asked about the possibility of Greece being blocked from the Schengen passport-free area, de Maiziere would not rule it out, saying he did not want to “speculate on hypothetical scenarios.” However, he said the “aim should be for us to do everything possible in order to maintain the right to free movement in Europe, with the participation of Greece.”
He underlined the need for EU member-states to work together in dealing with the refugee crisis, criticizing those that have failed to join the broader effort. “It is true that the refugee crisis is a huge challenge for Europe when a series of member-states completely abandon the notion of European solidarity.”
“We must all contribute and those who are under more pressure due to their geographical position, like Greece, deserve the support of Europe,” he said.
As for Turkey, he conceded that it can do more to “visibly and gradually reduce the number of refugees” heading toward Greece but said that more efficient border controls on the Greek side are equally important to curb the influx.