Greece will open four ‘hotspots’ in time for EU summit

Refugee hotspot map on the Greek islands. [European Commission]

Greece will open four migrant registration centres in time for an EU summit this week, a government source told AFP today (15 February), as Athens comes under intense pressure to control the massive influx to Europe.

Four of Greece’s five “hotspot” centres will formally open by Wednesday (17 February) on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Leros and Samos, which have been struggling to cope with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees landing from Turkey in flimsy boats, the source said. The hotspot on the island of Kos is already operational.

The centres were supposed to open late last year but have faced repeated delays.

Defence Minister Panos Kammenos is expected to visit the hotspots of Leros, Chios and Lesbos on Tuesday following a news conference in Athens.

Each facility will have enough prefab housing to accommodate 1,000 arrivals for three days, during which they will be registered, have their fingerprints taken and be sorted between those eligible for asylum in the European Union and those who face eventual deportation.

Security checks will attempt to prevent the entry of jihadists, a pressing concern after two of the men who carried out November’s attacks in Paris sneaked into Europe via Greece, posing as refugees.

The fifth centre, on the island of Kos, will be set up slightly later, the source said. Opposition from local authorities and residents, complaining that the influx has damaged their vital tourism industry, has caused delays to the construction work.

Riot police Sunday fired tear gas at protesters on the resort island who are angry over plans to open the centre.

‘Stop them at a border’

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who will attend the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, is facing mounting pressure from EU neighbours to do more to stem the relentless flow of migrants fleeing conflict and misery in the Middle East and elsewhere.

“We have to reduce refugee flows. This can only be done if we stop them at a border,” Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told a security conference in Munich over the weekend, Ta Nea daily reported today.

“If not at the Greek-Turkish border, then it will have to be at the Greek-Macedonian border… Macedonia is willing to do that,” he said according to the Greek daily.

Tsipras is expected to discuss the issue with visiting EU president Donald Tusk in Athens tomorrow.

EU member states on Friday gave Greece a three-month ultimatum to remedy “deficiencies” in controlling the influx, or effectively face suspension from the Schengen passport-free zone.

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Athens has been granted three months to avoid a Grexit from the Schengen zone, and improve the protection of its external borders, by implementing 50 measures specified in a document leaked by Statewatch. EURACTIV Greece reports

“The refugees set off when they know they will quickly reach Europe. If this prospect is not available then fewer will embark on this path,” Kurz said in Munich.

While Greece has acknowledged delays in the opening of the centres — calling in the army to help complete them — the government insists it is already registering migrants with the help of 400 staff from EU border agency Frontex.

Athens last week also agreed to a German proposal to deploy NATO warships between the Greek and Turkish coasts to combat the activity of people smugglers and reduce the migration flow to Europe.

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