Greece attempts to convince EU of its plans
By Nathalie Vandystadt | Monday 02 April 2012
Michalis Chrisochoidis, the Greek minister for citizen protection, has bowed to the pressure: on 2 April in Brussels, he presented to the European Commission his imminent projects to counter illegal immigration in Greece and to improve the fate of asylum seekers. Greece is the eurozone’s ‘black sheep’, and is also faring badly in terms of immigration – with the French incumbent/presidential candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, first in line to point this out, calling the border between Greece and Turkey a “sieve”. Five weeks away from legislative elections, Athens is also upholding its ‘wall’ project, which Chrisochoidis insists is a “an internal policy matter”. Greece lacks structures, both for asylum seekers and for detaining illegal immigrants before they are sent home. “Greece has a terrible humanitarian crisis to deal with, dealing with the hundreds of thousands of souls that cross borders each year, either using our country as transit to go further in Europe, or staying in our country,” said the Greek minister after a meeting with Commissioner Cecilia Malmström (immigration).
According to the Greek minister’s figures, 150 000 migrants enter Greece each year, mostly illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Algeria, Morocco or Sudan, helped by people smugglers. “Greece can no longer accept this time bomb. It is also a sanitary bomb,” said the minister.
Chrisochoidis announced the building of the first reception centres for asylum seekers. In the Evros region, at the border between Greece and Turkey, building will start in a few days “with asylum services that will meet all the European and international requirements,” said the minister. Indeed, the conditions asylum seekers are living in was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and by the EU Court of Justice (ECJ), and asylum seekers who have entered Europe via Greece cannot be sent back to Greece.
The minister added that Athens wants to use the €250 million, which is available to it under the EU External Borders Fund and the Return Fund to build these centres and for ‘return’ operations.
“This sum will be sufficient for 2012-2013, but under the new financial framework of the EU, we need a new economic plan,” Chrisochoidis said. It is not about “more money” but rather about a “more effective use of funds,” agreed Malmström, who considers thediscussion to have been very constructive.
With regard to the building of a wall on the border between Greece and Turkey, “it is an internal policy matter” not financed by the EU, Chrisochoidis stressed, adding that the project would be imminent and quick. Yet the wall will do nothing to resolve the problem of migrants who try to enter the country via the river Evros of the Aegean Sea. The minister has therefore called for a “solution” to sign the agreement – which is currently on stand-by – with Turkey on the readmission of clandestine immigrants. However, in exchange for this agreement, Ankara wants to open a dialogue on visa exemption in Europe for its citizens, which the EU is currently refusing to grant.