Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said Thursday that the government was committed to easing pressure on the Aegean islands that are hosting thousands of irregular migrants and to boosting trust between central government and island authorities.
His comments followed a meeting with the regional governor of the northern Aegean, Kostas Moutzouris, and the mayors of Lesvos, Samos and Chios, where the problem of overcrowding at state-run camps is particularly intense.
“Our priorities include the decongestion of islands, the reduction of migrant inflows, the return [of migrants] to Turkey and trust-building measures between the central government and the islands,” Mitarakis said, adding that the “anxiety and indignation” of residents on Greek islands over the migration situation was justified.
He said ministry and local authority officials would meet every two weeks to assess progress.
In addition to reducing the influx of new arrivals from Turkey and decongesting the islands, the two sides also agreed on the need to improve the asylum system and provide more support to local communities, and particularly hospitals, which are overwhelmed.
However, there were disagreements too. Although the two sides agreed on the need for facilities with more security, they disagreed on the size of those centers and how exactly they should operate.
Mitarakis said he was confident that the government will win the local authorities’ trust by boosting returns. But the island mayors, who delivered a petition to the Maximos Mansion following Wednesday’s protests by islanders, are opposed to plans for new centers.
They want the existing camps to close first. Mitarakis said the government’s plan foresees the closure of the existing centers by the summer. Moutzouris said island authorities expect the government to translate the good faith it has expressed into action soon.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, meanwhile, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis underlined the need for the European Union to “come up with a unified strategy” for migration policy and for “some burden sharing to take place.”