Migrants: 'EU must do more to help Greece' - Grandi (UNHCR)

High Commissioner visits refugee camps on Greek islands

28 November, 15:18

    UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visits refugee camps on Greek islands UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visits refugee camps on Greek islands

    ATHENS - The UN's High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi believes that the European Union must do more for Greece to help with the ongoing refugee crisis, while Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis reiterated the need for the EU-Turkey agreement on refugees to be "strictly honored". Grandi is in Greece for a two-day visit as he gets up to speed with the latest developments. The Italian visited the island of Lesvos on Wednesday and met in Athens with Mitsotakis to discuss plans to deal with the burning issues.

    And Grandi's message was a welcome one for Greek ears as the country struggles to deal with an escalating crisis that threatens to return to the levels of 2015.

    "Europe needs to do more for Greece, which is part of the European Union," said Grandi. "And I'm speaking here from the perspective of a fellow European, not just as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees." He added: "We need to do more for the reception centers where all these people are staying, in Greece and in all hosting coutries, such as Italy, Malta, and Spain. Today, Greece is the country most affected by the crisis. So, my message is that we need more resources to provide solutions." This was Grandi's second visit to Lesvos. "The influxes of people are not quite what they were from 2015-2016, but they are definitely much larger than last year. And the living conditions of the people who are arriving in Lesvos are very bad. The numbers of Afghans and Syrians are mainly increasing again." NO CHILD ALONE In their meetings, Grandi and Mitsotakis discussed the support of the UNHCR office in Athens and the Asylum Service, including the work being done by the latter's staff in order to process a backlog of thousands of asylum applications.

    Also in attendance were Greece's UNHCR representative Philippe Leclerc, the UNHCR's Director of the Regional Bureau for Europe, Pascale Moreau, and cabinet ministers.

    Mitsotakis also briefed Grandi on a special initiative for unaccompanied children, called "No child alone", which aims to provide housing for vulnerable minors, with the help of the EU, UNHCR and the Citizens Society.

    But the most important point Mitsotakis and his government emphasized was the need for Turkey to strictly adhere to and respect the EU-Turkey Joint Agreement of March 2016 on migrants.

    OPPOSITION TO NEW "CLOSED CAMPS" In related developments, the North Aegean Regional Council on Wednesday backed the decision of Lesvos council to reject the government's proposal to create a new "closed pre-departure center with a capacity of 5,000 on the island, as well as similar centers proposed or Samos and Chios.

    As part of their decision, which came via a landslide majority, the regional council also called for the immediate decongestion of the North East Aegean islands by speeding up transfers and relocating migrants on the mainland, boosting security forces, and supporting local communities.

    This latest development complicates the Greek government's plans which were announced only last week - to open a total of five new "closed pre-departure centers" for refugees and migrants on the Aegean islands of Samos, Chios, Lesvos, Kos and Leros in an effort to ease the overcrowding .

    The new camps in theory would host between 1,000 and 5,000 people, and the aim is for the new facilities to replace the current open camps such as Moria on Lesvos and Vathy on Chios, where living conditions have become squalid due to mass overcrowding.

    But it remains to be seen what the state will put forward now in the wake of such comprehensive opposition at local levels.

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