As European Union leaders prepare to meet in Brussels Thursday for talks on the ongoing migrant crisis, the Greek government sought to shake off some of the pressure for its handling of the massive influx by announcing that four registration centers – known as hot spots – were “ready to function and welcome refugees.”
In a further boost to Greek hopes, visiting European Council President Donald Tusk said that excluding Greece from the passport-free travel zone Schengen will not solve the migrant crisis.
“The migration crisis is testing our union to its limits,” Tusk said after a meeting with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens. “For all those talking of excluding Greece from Schengen, thinking this is a solution to the migration crisis, I say no, it is not,” he said as Tsipras repeated his call for a coordinated European approach.
Meanwhile, Greece said that four long-stalled screening centers were ready to operate on the islands of Lesvos, Samos, Chios and Leros, while a fifth on the island of Kos, which has met with fierce opposition from residents and the local mayor, would be ready in the coming days.
Speaking from Lesvos, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos suggested that any further criticism of Greece would be unjustified.
“The game of pushing responsibility onto Greece is now over,” Kammenos said.
Each hot spot contains an estimated 1,000 prefabricated houses designed to accommodate migrants and asylum seekers for up to three days. During a visit by Kathimerini to the Chios facility, migrants were seen wearing orange bracelets indicating that they had received first-aid, as well as food, water and a blanket.
Despite progress, Greece is set to face more pressure from Central European states hoping to block the Balkan refugee route by shutting off Greece. Austria joined the chorus Tuesday, announcing that it would introduce border controls along its southern frontier.
The trend is unpopular with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who plans to push implementation of the EU’s migrant deal with Turkey during the two-day summit.
“Do we really want to give up already and close the Greek-Macedonian-Bulgarian border, with all the consequences this would have for Greece and the European Union as a whole and therefore the Schengen area?” Merkel said Tuesday.