It may take up to two years for refugees and migrants trapped in Greece by closed borders at its north to be relocated to other countries of the European Union or deported, Alternate Defense Minister and coordinator of the ministerial team managing the crisis Dimitris Vitsas, told the Financial Times on Sunday.
“The thousands of migrants at the border are awaiting the outcome of the March 17 summit [of EU leaders] on refugees, hoping they will then be able to cross,” Vitsas said, referring to a summit later this week with Turkish officials to finalize a plan for migrant returns and relocations.
“We have to persuade them this is not going to happen . . . then the Idomeni camp will quickly empty, I think by the end of the week,” Vitsas told the FT.
His interview came a day before a spokesman for the UNHCR warned that conditions at the makeshift camp that is home to over 10,000 migrants on Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) are “just unbelievable.”
Official estimates on Monday put the number of migrants trapped in Greece at over 44,000 as new arrivals kept landing on the country’s eastern islands.
Vitsas estimated that even if EU and Turkish leaders agree to speed up relocations, clearing the backlog in Greece may take up to two years.
“We also have to recognize that some migrants will stay in Greece permanently. It’s going to happen,” Vitsas told the FT.