UNHCR chief António Guterres witnessed the improved humanitarian response mounted by Greek local authorities and civil society while lamenting the continued lack of a large-scale and effective European response.
UNHCR has deployed an emergency team to Greece and now has some 120 staff in the country to support the government in its effort to address the continuing crisis. The island of Lesbos, with a population of 95,000 people, has received over 400.000 people in nine months – 160,000 in September, and 15.000 in the last weekend alone.
Greece’s first so-called migrant hotspot on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos started operating last week .Alternate Minister for Immigration Policy Yiannis Mouzalas said on Saturday, adding that another four screening centers will follow on other islands.
He made the announcement during a press conference in Athens to present EU policy on migration and refugee relocation, along with European Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos and Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.
Mouzalas said it was key that the EU “applies the same criteria for all countries.”
In his comments, Avramopoulos said that a total of 160,000 refugees will be distributed among the bloc’s non-border nations. He said guest countries would be decided by experts at EU-staffed hotspots, and not the refugees.
“No country can shoulder this burden on its own. Europe will offer money and know-how,” said Asselborn.
The EU has so far spent 33 million euros on dealing with the migration crisis, officials said.
Assessing conditions on the Greek island of Lesbos, the main landing spot for tens of thousands of people taking smuggler boats from the nearby Turkish coast, Guterres said
“It is amazing that on a small island, you do respond, and you do manage this crisis, whereas in a big Europe with half a billion people, they are finding it so difficult to respond,”
Guterres told Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos and other Greek officials.
“We are always saying this crisis is manageable at the European level, but to be manageable, it needs to be much better managed.”
Without a Europe-wide approach and an effective strategy in dealing with the influx, Guterres warned, criminal networks would continue to thrive. “When states are not able to organize the orderly movement of refugees, smugglers take charge, exploiting people further and adding to their suffering,” he added.
Describing his island as frontline, Mayor Galinos said:
“the main issue is not the numbers, but the lack of a European policy to respond.”
Nevertheless, he said, Greeks would continue to do whatever they could to address the crisis and combat smugglers, “who not only exploit the people, but who put their lives at continuous risk.”
“Above all, we are all human beings,” the Mayor added. “We must all recognize the position of these people because we might all find ourselves in this situation one day.”
What is a hotspot according to EU law?
The operational support provided under the Hotspot approach, will concentrate on
- and debriefing of asylum seekers,
- as well as return operations.
Those claiming asylum will be
immediately channelled into an asylum procedure
where EASO support teams will help to process asylum applications as quickly as possible.
For those who are not in need of protection,
Frontex will help Member States by coordinating the return of irregular migrants.
Europol and Eurojust will assist the host Member State with
investigations to dismantle smuggling and trafficking networks