We Must Reduce Migrant, Refugee Pressures, Says Greek Minister



The numbers of people in migrant reception camps must be decreased, Greek Migration Policy Minister Dimitris Vitsas said on Monday, referring to the northern Aegean islands bearing the brunt of the migrant influx.

Vitsas, speaking to the Athens News Agency radio station ‘Praktoreio’, said: “I believe we must relieve and ease Lagadikia and Diavata, as well as Skaramangas and the islands.”

He was referring to the three migrant camps on the Greek mainland and those on Lesvos, Chios and Samos. It is thought over 6,600 migrants entered Greece in April alone.

The minister said it is imperative that refugees should be hosted in apartments in cities and towns across Greece.

“What we want is for more municipalities to cooperate in order for this programme to proceed at a satisfactory rate,” he said.

Referring to the refugees’ integration programme, Vitsas clarified that “there must be a new six-month hosting programme for those who have been granted asylum but continue, effectively, to live as asylum-seekers; so what we need is an interim programme.”

Regarding the EU relocation programme announced by the European Commission for 50,000 refugees coming directly from Africa, the Middle East and Turkey, Vitsas noted:

“At this time the number that is proposed — and the programme has not started yet — is not, in my opinion, satisfactory for the five countries of first arrival. But the programme must begin anyway in order to allow people to go to other countries, even if it would be best for them to return to their countries in safety.”

Regarding the dormant EU-Turkey agreement that would send migrants arriving illegally to Greece back to Turkey, the minister estimated that “the collapse of the agreement would not be in anyone’s interest and the discussion with my Turkish counterpart does not indicate such a thing”.

Speaking about unaccompanied migrant children, Vitsas said that “the issue is the responsibility of the Labor and Social Solidarity Ministry, which is setting up shelters in order to have the appropriate refuge and the appropriate attitude towards these children”.

As for their medical care and education, the migration minister said that “a comprehensive programme exists which allows more and younger children to attend school.”

As for the children who have been in the Lesvos and Samos hotspots for three months waiting for their asylum applications to be processed, he said that the ministry is trying to find ways for the children to get education inside the camps.