“We don’t care about the fact that maybe we’ll have some returns from Germany if this will help, in order to give the signal to the smugglers [that Europe is tackling illegal migration flows],” Tsipars told the Financial Times. The Greek leader was commenting on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plans to seek bilateral deals with some EU countries. Merkel is seeking to curb “secondary movements” of migrants and refugees who arrive at Europe’s southern borders and then travel further north, often heading for Germany.
Tsipras also said that he believes the bloc has to find a way “to share the burden and to not have this unfair position for the frontline countries but also for Germany,” adding that “it’s not fair all these people to go to Germany, if we believe that this is a European problem.” The PM reassured people that any deal with Germany would not have any negative effects on Greece, saying only between 50 and 100 migrants and refugees cross its northern border a month.
“For us it is not the problem,” Tsipras said. The reassuring words, however, flew in the face of the problems facing the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, where locals have been staging protests over the immigration pileup. The border islands receive 75 new arrivals daily, according to the Greek Kathimerini newspaper. In total, over 13,000 people have arrived to Greece by sea since the start of this year alone.
The UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Kelly Clements called the situation in Greece a “reception crisis” saying that refugee camps on the Greek islands are overcrowded while conditions in them are close to “crisis point.” Greece is currently hosting over 60,000 refugees and migrants according to the UN, including 14,000 on the islands.
A local community leader on the island of Lesbos, which hosts one of the biggest refugee camps in Greece, briefly went on a hunger strike to protest against the sewage and garbage from the camp as well as frequent fires originating there, which put local properties at risk. In early May, Lesbos also witnessed violent protests as anti-migrant protesters clashed with police during Tsipras’ visit to the island. Some 2,500 people flocked to the streets of the island’s main town, Mytilene, to demand an immediate evacuation of migrants from the refugee camp that currently hosts about 9,000.
Meanwhile, the agreement of border EU states to “share the burden” is crucial to Merkel who faces enormous pressure over her migration policy at home. Her key coalition ally and the Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, effectively set the chancellor a deadline by saying that he would unilaterally begin turning away some migrants and asylum seekers at the German border if she fails to negotiate a solution during a European Council meeting on June 28-29.
Other potential negotiation partners for Merkel, however, seem to be less cooperative than Greece. Italy, which is now led by a coalition of right-wingers and Euroskeptics, has started turning away rescue boats carrying migrants. Government officials of Austria and Italy, together with Seehofer, also agreed to form an “axis of the willing” to apparently fight illegal migration in their own way.
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