Tsipras: Unlike Hungary, Athens will help resolve the refugee crisis

Syrian refugees come ashore. Kos, 15 August. [Freedom House/Flickr]

Greece will help the EU tackle the refugee crisis, despite certain member states’ unwillingness to contribute,  Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Thursday (29 October). EURACTIV Greece reports.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, visited Athens yesterday to discuss the crisis with Tsipras.

The visit took place after another tragedy in Greek waters on Wednesday (28 October), when an estimated 11 refugees died in the eastern Aegean Sea, in five separate incidents.

Athens committed to taking in 30,000 refugees by the end of the year, with the United Nations guaranteeing support for 20,000 additional asylum seekers.

Greek media quoted Tsipras as saying that Athens would have a more helpful approach on the refugee crisis compared to Hungary.

Referring to the latest tragedy, the premier said it was a “humanitarian duty” to address the situation.

The Greek leader believes that the EU border agency Frontex should be reinforced, and reacted strongly to recent suggestions that Greece conduct joint patrols with Turkey in the Aegean.

Greece’s primary goal was to seek a solution to the refugee crisis in Turkey “which is the true gateway in Europe”, according to Migration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas.

“The starting point of the problem lies in Turkey,” said the Greece’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias. “Those who try to put responsibility on Athens will make a big mistake,” he told Steinmeier.

Steinmeier didn’t make any reference to joint Greek-Turkish patrols in the Aegean, but asked why the European Union was still discussing concessions towards Ankara. He pointed out that the strategic role of Turkey required realistic behaviour from the European side.

“Trust is the word that I want to keep and learn,” Steinmeier noted, referring to Greece’s efforts to get out of its economic crisis, as well as to address the refugee challenge.   

Hungary to expel migrants to Greece

Meanwhile, the Hungarian government will challenge the EU’s plan for mandatory migrant relocation quotas, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said on Thursday.

“Hungary does not want to accept any (migrants) who have been expelled. Our view is that they should be expelled to Greece,” Janos Lazar told a news conference.

Commission: Some refugees may stay in Greece

Meanwhile, the Commission explained yesterday that 50,000 refugees will be temporarily hosted in Greece.

>>Read: Fly, don’t walk, EU will urge Balkan migrants

“These are not permanent residence places,” stressed European Commission spokesperson, Natasha Bertaud. Those who are refused asylum seeker status would be detained until they return to their homelands, she said.

“There will be also some [refugees] who will be relocated to other EU countries,” she noted. 

"Europe must protect its borders, on the basis of international law, but what the borders of each state are and how to protect them is up to it," the President of the Greek Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos said, referring to recent calls for joint Greek-Turkish patrols in the Aegean Sea.

The European Union has agreed on a plan, resisted by Hungary and several other ex-Communist members of the bloc, to share out 160,000 refugees among its members, a small proportion of the 700,000 refugees the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates will reach Europe's borders from the Middle East, Africa and Asia this year.

The EU is also courting Turkey with the promise of money, visa-free travel, and new accession talks if Ankara tries to stem the flow of refugees across its territory.

In the frontline of the refugee wave this year, Greece has been criticised for failing to implement EU law on registering new arrivals. Now, the EU plans to persuade refugees to wait in Greece for paid flights to other countries offering asylum, rather than risk dangerous winter treks through the Balkans.

During a mini-summit with Balkan states last Sunday (25 October), Athens committed to host 50,000 more refugees by the end of this year. Another 50,000 places should be made available in countries further north along the Balkan road. The EU has promised funds to Greece and the other countries to provide emergency help.

>> Read: Leaders clash at migration mini-summit

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