Refugee crisis: Greece taking on unfair burden, Parliament told

Written by Martin Banks on 20 June 2018 in News

Greek migration policy minister Dimitrios Vitsas has told MEPs his country is shouldering a disproportionate burden in handling the latest migrant crisis.

Photo credit: Press Association

Addressing a meeting of Parliament’s civil liberties committee on Wednesday, he said that an estimated 60,000 migrants and asylum seekers currently had flocked to the country in recent years.

MEPs were discussing with Vitsas how to deal with humanitarian emergencies in the Mediterranean, following the decision by the Italian and Maltese governments not to allow the MV Aquarius, a ship operated by French NGOs SOS Mediterranée and Medecins sans frontières, to land more than 629 people after rescuing them in the open sea.

The ship has since been accepted by Spain but the row has once again put the spotlight on EU migration policy.


The committee meeting heard that Greece, since 2015, has been at the forefront of the influx of migrants and asylum seekers, many from north Africa.

At a meeting on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a “European solution” to migration issues.

While the latest incident regarding the Aquarius had not caught the public’s attention like the huge migrant influx in 2015, Vitsas said his country was still having to bear the burden of migrants heading to the EU.

His comments were party echoed by a committee member, Swedish EFDD group MEP Kristina Winberg who told the meeting on current and future challenges in the field of migration and asylum, “We are seeing more and more countries, such as Malta and Italy in the Aquarius case, who are refusing to accept these NGO boats.

“Spain finally agreed to accept Aquarius even though it does not have the capacity to cope with an influx of migrants.

“We keep having this debate about migrants and asylum seekers but we never seem to get anywhere with it. We now have Austria, holder of the EU Council presidency from 1 July, whose policies on this issue are very different.”

Another member, Martina Anderson, a GUE/NGL group deputy, told the committee she was grateful to Greece for its efforts in dealing with Europe’s ongoing migrant crisis, adding, “The word solidarity is banded around a lot but solidarity is often lost or ignored when it comes to this issue.”

She voiced particular concern about the role of human traffickers and pointed out that in the last two months, about 6500 refugees had landed at Greek ports.

Elsewhere, Parliament has backed proposals that mean it will be easier for migration and asylum authorities to identify persons entering or staying irregularly in the EU.

New rules informally agreed with council aim to reinforce the EURODAC system, designed to store and search data on asylum applicants and irregular migrants.

The rules were agreed on Tuesday by Parliament and Council negotiators.

The new system would help immigration and asylum authorities to better control irregular immigration to the EU, detect secondary movements (migrants moving from the country in which they first arrived to seek protection elsewhere) and facilitate their readmission and return to their countries of origin.

It will also improve the safety of refugee children. At least 10,000 migrant and refugee children have gone missing since arriving in Europe, according to Europol.

The negotiators also reached a preliminary agreement that data should be registered in the EURODAC system before a decision on admission is made through the resettlement procedure. The technical details of this part of the agreement still need to be discussed further.

Parliament’s rapporteur on the file, Romanian ECR group deputy Monica Macovei, said,  "Today’s provisional agreement will ensure that people do not submit asylum applications in multiple countries, while respecting the EU’s commitments to international law. It will also address fears of threats to internal security by registering and storing the data of irregular migrants.”

She added, “Obtaining the fingerprints and facial images of minors aged six years old and above will be crucial to help identify and trace missing children and establish family links, while preventing them from ending up in the hands of human traffickers and smugglers."

The agreed text now needs to be formally approved by the civil liberties committee, Parliament as a whole and the Council of the EU before entering into force.

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

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