Responding to a spike in migrant arrivals from neighboring Turkey, the government’s Council for Foreign Affairs and Defense (KYSEA) has decided on seven measures to ease the pressure on the Aegean islands and curb the influx.
Saturday’s session was called after more than 500 migrants reached Lesvos on Thursday – the largest mass arrivals since the peak of Europe’s refugee crisis in early 2016.
Following the meeting chaired by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, government spokesman Stelios Petsas said that the gradual increase in migration flows in recent months necessitates a “new, robust policy.”
The measures decided include the transfer of migrants from cramped camps on the islands to facilities on the mainland, the immediate relocation of 116 unaccompanied minors from the islands ahead of their reunification with relatives in other European Union countries, and the transfer of another 250 minors to the mainland in the coming weeks.
Additionally, authorities are to boost the monitoring of Greece’s borders, with the help of the European Union’s Frontex border agency and NATO.
There are also plans to change the institutional framework for the issuing of asylum with the abolition of reviews of rejected applications.
Also on the cards is an increase in police patrols to locate migrants whose asylum applications were rejected but are still in the country.
The efforts of the coast guard in the Aegean will be bolstered with the procurement of 10 speedboats that will be dispatched to intercept suspected smuggling vessels heading towards Greece from neighboring Turkey.
Finally, additional support will be provided to local authorities that are bearing the brunt of hosting undocumented migrants, in particular on the islands.
The spike in arrivals has further strained ties between Athens and Ankara. On Friday, Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Athens and urged the neighboring country to honor a deal for migrant returns signed with the EU in March 2016.
Athens views Ankara’s stance as an attempt to exert pressure on the European Union for more funding to tackle the refugee crisis and a milder stance opposite Turkey vis-a-vis its drilling for oil in the Eastern Mediterranean.