Athens on edge over migrants as Berlin pushes for returns amid backlash

Athens on edge over migrants as Berlin pushes for returns amid backlash

As hundreds of migrants continue to arrive on the Aegean islands from Turkey, steadily increasing pressure on overcrowded reception centers, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is expected to discuss the refugee crisis during an informal cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

The issue is of increasing concern in Athens in view of a recent spike in arrivals, which have risen to between 100 to 200 daily compared to virtually zero levels following a failed coup in Turkey in July.

The influx is still far below arrivals this time last year when thousands of people were reaching the islands on rickety boats every day.

Developments in Germany are also fuelling worries in the ranks of the Greek government.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Sunday that he wanted migrants to be returned from Germany to Greece, in accordance with the Dublin Regulation, according to which refugees should apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter.

Meanwhile, Merkel’s third-place finish in Sunday’s election for the state legislature in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, behind the far-right, anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party, is expected to further harden the stance of Berlin in favor of returns to Greece.

Tsipras is also expected to broach the issue of refugees during a summit of Mediterranean leaders in Athens on Friday. Italian Premier Matteo Renzi is expected to attend along with French President Francois Hollande though Spanish Premier Mariano Rajoy will be absent due to political upheaval in his country.

The Greek government is planning to open new migrant camps on the mainland in order to move hundreds of refugees out of centers on the Aegean islands which are cramped and where tensions often spill over into scuffles or riots.

Several migrants were hurt early on Tuesday after a brawl broke out the Moria refugee center on the island of Lesvos.

The rioting began following a dispute between migrants from Syria and Afghanistan, according to local reports, which said protesters broke doors and set fire to mattresses and other items.

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