EU’s refugee relocation from Greece ‘disappointing’, says ambassador

Island of Lesbos

“Migratory response from EU countries, reports for relocation are so far disappointing: only 14 member states, Lithuania is one of them, and we are grateful for that, have offered to receive 601 persons from Greece. Out of this number, only 214 persons in need for international protection, have been relocated from Greece to Luxemburg, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Portugal, the Netherlands and Cyprus. It’s obvious that more work should be done,” the ambassador urged EU member states to respond during a conference on migration in Vilnius.

The ambassador also rejected accusation that Greece itself was not trying to ensure protection of the EU’s external border, saying that the country had a sea border of 16,000km, and “no fence can be erected” in the sea.

Therefore, the problem can only be controlled in Turkey, which is the main gateway for refugees coming to Europe. According to the diplomat, when a migrant reaches a boat, “it is too late and there’s nothing possible to do” as they cannot be abandoned under international law. These people are ready to risk their lives to get to Europe, and Greece is only left to carry out rescue operation, the ambassador said.

“How can you stop them? Push-backs are not permitted under international law. Ant in the Council of Europe these questions are arising all the time: you don’t have the right to push back somebody who is at sea and is trying to arrive to the soil of Greece, to the islands,” Asteriadis said in an interview with BNS after the conference.

In his words, one refugee distribution centre is being operated on the Isle of Lesbos. It can register 3,500-4000 refugees every day. There are also refugee reception centres in mainland Greece, capable of registering up to 4,500 refugees.

According to Asteriadis, efforts are being made to set up new centres. But he reminds that Greece is facing “a social-financial crisis, an economic crisis in Greece and we are doing our best for the humanitarian crisis”.

In his words, Greece is facing simple technical problems as it needs to acquire equipment for taking fingerprints, issue documents. The country needs printing equipment which costs a lot.

Europe needs to solve “root migration problems” to resolve the conflict in Syria, find solution for the relocation of refugees directly from conflict zones, as well as step up the return of migrants without the right to get the status of refugee and get asylum to their countries of origin, for example, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Greek ambassador also called on the EU to take urgent action to break the refugee smuggling networks in Turkey and step up negotiations on a humanitarian refugee relocation mission directly from Turkey to EU member states.

Figures from the International Organization for Migration show that almost 62,000 migrants and refugees arrived in Europe via Greece in January.

Lithuania has agreed to accept 1,105 refugees over the next two years under the EU relocation program, and only one Iraqi family of four have arrive in Lithuania so far.

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