In Greece, EU commissioner stresses need for solidarity in managing migration

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson on Tuesday called for more solidarity, cooperation and a fair distribution of the burden of irregular migration among states, during her three-day visit to Greece.

Johansson visited migrant reception facilities on the islands of Samos and Lesvos on Sunday and Monday with Greek Minister for Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi and talked to asylum seekers, locals and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) before meeting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and other officials in Athens on Tuesday.

Both sides acknowledged the progress made in recent months in migration management, but agreed that more needs to be done.

Johansson and the Greek officials also discussed the European Union’s (EU) new Pact on Migration and Asylum. According to Greece, the proposal presented by the European Commission last autumn, which is currently being discussed by the EU member states, does not give satisfactory answers to the requests of Greece and other countries on the front line of irregular mass migration for a more proportionate sharing of the burden.

“We must first work to ease the impact on the first-reception countries,” Mitarachi said in a joint statement to the press with Johansson. “The solidarity mechanism should have substantial results regarding the relocation of asylum seekers. We must establish a central European mechanism for returns that will be coordinated by the European Commission.”

“We share the will to Europeanize the migration policy and migration management and border management,” Johansson said.

“What we have seen in Europe the past six years is a lack of a Europeanized migration policy,” she said at a briefing on Lesvos Island. The member states on the EU’s external borders, and especially some islands, have been under huge pressure, which “should not be acceptable,” she said. “Migration is something that we need to manage and we can manage, but we have to do it together.”

Johansson and the Greek officials also stressed the need for better cooperation with countries of origin and transit and the conclusion of effective readmission agreements with third countries.

Since the closure of borders along the Balkan route to central Europe in 2016, tens of thousands of refugees and migrants have been stranded in Greece. The temporary reception camps, in particular on five Greek islands, have been overflowing due to delays in the assessment of their asylum claims, relocations to other states and returns.

Early last year, 92,000 people were hosted in such facilities across Greece. By now, this number has dropped to 58,000, Mitarachi said.

Johansson noted that the EU has allocated a quarter of a billion euros (293 million U.S. dollars) in the past five months for the construction of reception centers on the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Leros, Kos and Samos, where refugees and migrants will be hosted in adequate living conditions. Construction has already started and the goal is for the new facilities to open before next winter.