As the flow of undocumented migrants to the Aegean islands continues unabated, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his Italian counterpart Giuseppe Conte on Tuesday agreed during talks in Rome that the refugee crisis is a challenge that the European Union should tackle jointly.
Conte maintained that the EU should handle the crisis “centrally,” noting that migrant returns and the distribution of refugees across member-states were pivotal for the problem to be tackled, according to the Italian government. He added that the issue should top the agenda of the next European Commission.
The two premiers agreed that the crisis demands broader coordination between member-states and the development of common policies and solutions on a European level.
They also both criticized the exploitation of the issue for “individual political interests” – an apparent dig at Turkey, whose president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been threatening for weeks to open its borders and “send” millions of refugees into Europe.
The rapprochement between the two leaders, who also signed an agreement to boost bilateral cooperation in the energy sector, was deemed positive by sources close to the premier who last week reiterated criticism of the EU for failing to show adequate solidarity toward Greece and other external border states which continue to bear the brunt of the refugee crisis.
Noting that both Greece and Italy are being equally tested by the crisis, Mitsotakis said Greece was facing a “huge burden of inflows… several times beyond its capabilities” which “it should not and cannot handle on its own.”
He repeated calls for Turkey to honor a deal it signed with the EU in March 2016 to curb human trafficking across the Aegean.
As hundreds of migrants continue to land on the islands almost every day, local authorities have balked at the government’s plans to create new centers on the islands that would be more restrictive of migrants’ movements.
The municipal council of Lesvos unanimously voted against the government’s plan to create a new “closed” center to host asylum seekers after a marathon session late on Monday night.
Yiannis Mastroyiannis, the president of the Moria community which hosts the island’s notoriously overcrowded camp, said, “We don’t want the problem of Moria to be transferred to another community.”
Instead, he said, the government’s plan to decongest the islands should be implemented so that the camp on Moria continues to operate within its normal capacity.
The decision follows that of the municipal council of the island of Chios last Friday, which also rejected a new closed center. Moreover, the Samos municipal council has already decided that all of its members will resign if a new closed center is created.
Meanwhile, nongovernmental organizations working with refugees and migrants were given 10 days to register with the Citizens’ Protection Ministry, or risk being banned from operating in Greece.