Greece has asked the European Union to speed up the relocation to other member states of migrants and refugees in the country under a plan agreed last year to ease pressure on frontline countries Greece and Italy.
Under the plan, 160,000 asylum seekers could be relocated over two years, but so far just under 4,000 people have been relocated from Greece and Italy to other European countries.
“At the moment we have 7,000 people ready to be relocated and no answers from the European Union member states which would be obliged to accept them,” Greek Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas told journalists.
“Therefore, we ask for this gap to be covered.”
Only 3% of the more than a million migrants arriving in Italy and Greece in 2015 were returned to their countries of origin or relocated across the EU as refugees, figures released by the European Commission today (10 February) revealed.
Mouzalas said he and fellow ministers would tour member states next month to discuss the issue. Greece was “seeking that the European Union fulfils what has been agreed”, he said.
Central European members fought the EU’s move last year to relocate asylum seekers, with Hungary and Slovakia challenging the decision in EU courts.
“The European Union member states are responding with delays that do not correspond with our needs to cover the positions that we have requested,” Mouzalas said.
More than 58,000 migrants and refugees are currently in Greece, nearly all of whom planned to head farther north but ended up stranded in the country due to border closures in the Balkans.
Of those living in camps and facilities on the mainland, 94% are Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis and 46% are children, according to figures released by authorities on Tuesday (23 August).
Most camps have been criticised by humanitarian organisations as having poor, unsanitary and unsafe conditions.
Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said earlier on Tuesday that Germany had agreed to take in hundreds of migrants who are blocked in Italy.
European Union countries have agreed in September 2015 to distribute 160,000 Syrian, Iraqi and Eritrean refugees from Greece and Italy and redistribute between them over the following two years.
The programme, complete with relocation quotas for each EU member state, has been met with hostility in a number of Eastern European countries and is struggling to get off the ground.
Slovakia said it will launch legal action against the EU quota plan and Hungary announced it will hold a referendum on the scheme by October this year.
Hungary will hold a referendum in September or early October on whether to accept any future European Union quota system for resettling migrants, the prime minister's office said yesterday (3 May).