Government officials admitted on Wednesday that Greece is becoming a reception, rather than transit, country for migrants as the European Commission announced a 700-million-euro humanitarian aid package to ease the plight of refugees.
Speaking to a group of mayors on Wednesday, Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas said that Greece had to assume that the border at Idomeni would be closed to refugees and migrants. He also suggested that as a result of stricter border restrictions in other parts of Europe, migrants would no longer be able to pass swiftly through the country and that the current situation, with people being stuck in Greece for some time, might continue for the next two to three years.
Mouzalas met with the heads of local authorities to discuss other sites that could be used to house migrants in the coming weeks. It is estimated that there are already 26,000 migrants in Greece and that this number will continue rising. The minister said that the government is currently looking for temporary accommodation for new arrivals
“In the next phase, we will have to work out where to put those who will remain longer in the country and to which closed facilities we will transfer those who will be repatriated,” said Mouzalas.
Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis said he is willing to help the government find facilities to house migrants, even though he has objections to the way the coalition has handled the crisis. Kaminis said that it is imperative that authorities do not allow ad hoc migrant camps to spring up in city squares and parks.
“Don’t panic, the problem is manageable,” said Mouzalas. “It is an emergency situation and needs some time before matters can be settled.”
However, concern is growing within the European Union about the rising number of migrants trapped in Greece as Athens struggles to find the resources to care for them.
“We are… really worried,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said about the build-up on Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). His comment came as Brussels announced plans for a 700-million-euro humanitarian aid package to prevent “a huge humanitarian crisis in Greece.”
The Commission’s proposal, if approved, will channel 300 million euros this year from its 155-billion-euro annual budget to the new emergency assistance scheme and 200 million euros both next year and in 2018. The funds will be allocated to NGO’s rather than the Greek state.
Greek authorities confirmed Wednesday that they are in the process of sending back 308 migrants who are not eligible for asylum to Turkey. Since the start of the year, 364 people have been returned by Greece to its neighboring country. All the migrants are thought to be from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria.
Athens has had a readmission agreement with Ankara since 2002. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic said Wednesday that his government has now offered to conclude such deals with 14 countries. He did not name the countries.