Last year, Greece and Italy made considerable demands for the EU to do more to deal with the migrant crisis and find a fairer way of distributing new arrivals to the bloc. But despite a UN report showing the number of migrants decreasing last year, the crisis is still ongoing and Southern European countries are still the main gateways.
In light of this, this week Greece made new calls for the EU to find a fairer way of sharing migrants, especially amid concerns over a recent sharp increase in arrivals on some of the Aegean islands near Turkey – Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros.
In an interview, deputy minister for citizen protection, Giorgios Koumoutsako, said, “since 7 July, there has not been a single day without arrivals – the total number of refugees and migrants has exceeded 20,000. This constitutes an increase of 17% in a few weeks.”
During the 2015 migrant crisis, Lesbos became the main arrival point in the EU. And, according to Koumoutsako, in recent weeks there’s been an increase of 44% when compared to the same period last year. He said: “9th August was one of the worst days during the summer period for Lesbos, as six boats with 250 people arrived.”
He added that Greece is a “front-line country… which also serves as part of the EU’s external border,” and that it has“exhausted its capacity on this issue (and) is looking forward to efficient cooperation with the European Commission and the member states.”
In 2018, more applications were made in lesbos and Samos than anywhere else, and in the first half of this year alone, there have been around 30,500 new applications for asylum.
So far, some member states like Sweden and Germany have accepted high numbers of refugees. However, others have refused to accept more, and Italy controversially closed its ports earlier in the year, leaving refugees stranded at sea.
Koumoutsako welcomed the EU’s upcoming president, who has mentioned that migration is high on her list of priorities. But he also called for a deal to be made between the EU and Turkey in order to reduce the number of crossings in the Aegean Sea.
He said he hoped an agreement could be made “on the basis of genuine and concrete solidarity” and that, until then, “Greece is looking forward to transitional European mechanisms, on the one hand, for a fairer sharing of the burden, and on the other, for a more effective return policy toward third countries.”
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