By Efthymios Aravantinos***
Greece’s obligation to set up five identification and registration centers, the so-called hotspots, for migrants and refugees arriving from Turkey, is mostly fulfilled. Four out of five hotspots, more precisely the ones on the islands of Lesvos, Leros, Samos and Chios, are fully operational. The Greek defense minister Panos Kamenos made clear that the fifth hotspot on the island of Kos, still not ready today, will also be operational by the end of the month.
The construction of the hotspots is part of the country’s obligations towards its EU partners. It is extremely important to process the registration and identification of refugees, as well as migrants, before they are transferred to relocation camps (intermediary hosting areas for refugees and migrants until they are transferred to other countries in Europe or readmitted to their country of origin).
Concerning the two relocation camps, the one in Athens is fully operational with a capacity to host 4000 people. Most of the infrastructure is accomplished for the second one in Thessaloniki, with a capacity for 4,000. Furthermore, additional hosting areas are being organized there in order to increase capacity.
Despite the progress made in Greece, the relocation of refugees, agreed to at the European Council of September 2015, has been poorly implemented by member states. Only 500 persons to date have been relocated out of the Greek relocation centers– while Greece continues to be the focus of a blame game for slow progress in managing the refugee influx.
However, the current migration crisis is unprecedented. It is the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War.
As the Greek alternate minister of migration policy Mr. Mouzalas said recently, “Today, five months after the first European decisions on registration, relocation, resettlement, there is no mention neither about relocation, nor resettlement. There’s only mention about registration, while numerous accusations are being heard against Greece. At the same time, we have European borders being closed with fences, and restoration of border controls…”
To date, smugglers in Turkey continue unhindered their lucrative business of ferrying desperate human beings, while humans keep perishing at sea in the most tragic of circumstances.
Greece, respecting international law and the Geneva Convention, is saving human lives at sea. Any other attitude would be illegal and contrary to humanity. In 2015, about 100,000 lives were rescued by patrol and volunteer boats, quite often in extremely difficult conditions.
Moreover, the estimated cost of $2.5 billion of dollars for offering emergency care to migrants is enormous for the distressed Greek economy.
The refugee crisis in Europe is far beyond a single country’s capabilities. All of Europe, collectively, should coordinate and exercise solidarity in order to cope with the crisis in dignity and as efficiently as possible.
Closing borders would mean there is no common policy in Europe, and lone attitudes by member states may provoke a dangerous domino effect. (For background on border issues and the Schengen agreement see recent European Affairs blog.)
Since NATO announced that it would participate in the process of controlling the influx of refugees, there’s been a sharp reduction of influx during the last few days. NATO will likely contribute to saving even more lives. On the other hand, the NATO announcement is not enough. For more efficiency a global operational plan is indispensable.
Coping with the refugee crisis is a great opportunity for Europe to display a genuinely collective spirit, unity and commitment to humanitarian values.
*** Efthymios Aravantinos is Press Counsellor at the Embassy of Greece in Washington
**** Perspectives is a periodic feature of European Affairs by Members and Guests on topical issues.