Conservative opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis has criticized European governments for making Greece a ‘scapegoat’ over the ongoing migrant crisis while calling for greater Turkish engagement in managing the problem.
In an interview with HARDtalk’s Zeinab Badawi in Brussels, Mitsotakis said that despite earlier foot-dragging over the issue, the country’s left-led government had made up for the lost ground.
“This government for about eight months didn’t realize the intensity of the problem. Over the past weeks there has been a significant acceleration,” Mitsotakis said adding that Greece had constructed five “hot spots” to house and process migrants on the Aegean islands of Chios, Kos, Leros, Lesvos and Samos.
Despite Greek progress, the relocation of refugees, agreed to by European governments last year, has been poorly implemented by member states. The pledge was to take in 160,000 asylum seekers already in Greece and Italy but, so far, only about 500 people have been relocated.
“Europe hasn’t done its fair share in terms of relocating refugees to European countries,” Mitsotakis told the BBC program.
“Unfortunately this debate has been held hostage to national politics and Greece has been a convenient scapegoat,” the New Democracy leader said.
Central European countries – such as Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – have been pushing for a shutdown of Greece’s northern border.
Asked about the consequences of a temporary Greek suspension from Schengen, the EU’s passport-free travel zone, over failure to control its external border, Mitsotakis said the fallout would not be restricted to Greece.
“That would be very problematic for Greece, but it would also be very problematic for Europe. Because we are not only talking about a temporary suspension of Greece; we are talking about a temporary suspension of the Schengen regime for the entire continent,” he said adding that Athens had three months to improve external border management.
A more effective way to slow the inflow of migrants, Mitsotakis said, would be to push for implementation of the EU deal with Turkey.
“We need to constructively engage Turkey in this,” he said.