PM pledged to again raise island VAT with EU institutions
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday pledged to again raise the issue of the VAT rate on Greece’s islands with European institutions, while chairing a meeting with ministers and local authority officials on the refugee crisis.
According to government sources, the meeting agreed to appoint a coordinator for each island that will work with local mayors and the Aegean’s two regional authorities, forming a coordinating body that will meet every 20 days.
Local governors of the North and South Aegean, the mayors of Lesvos, Samos, Kos, Leros and Chios, as well as the bishops of these islands participated in the meeting, along with Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos, Interior Minister Panagiotis Kouroumblis, State Minister Alekos Flambouraris, Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister Terens Quick and government spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili.
The discussion focused on the problems and needs that exist, and proposals for meeting the basic survival needs of the refugees and migrants arriving on the islands.
Among the issues addressed were practical aspects of the problem, such as cleaning up pollution caused by non-recyclable or non-biodegradable materials dumped in the sea by arrivals. Such refuse included the plastic inflatable dinghies, life-jackets and other equipment. According to the mayor of Lesvos, there were now 800 tonnes of such non-recyclable materials on Lesvos alone.
The five islands, with the possible addition of Kalymnos, have been selected as possible sites for refugee hotspots, while two centres capable of housing 10,000 individuals each will be created in Athens and Thessaloniki to received the ‘identified’ refugees.
Government sources stressed that such centres were necessary in order to allow relocation mechanisms to operate, allowing the refugees to be resettled in other European countries.
The prime minister informed those at the meeting that 1,000 positions for social workers will open up on the islands receiving refugee flows and that he will request 380 million euros from European institutions to finance a special programme to support the local economy on each island, managed jointly with local government.
Archbishop Ieronymos raised the issue of orphaned or unaccompanied children arriving on the islands, the sources said, who are now being cared for by Church institutions. He said the Church had also distributed more than 70,000 hot meals, thousands of sleeping bags, blankets, food parcels and personal care products, as well as assisting in vaccinations and the work to repair and refurbish hostels.
Another major problem are the rising numbers of dead bodies, which exceed the ability of local communities to cope. On the island of Lesvos alone, the number of drowned refugees that remain unburied due to lack of space in the local cemetery has reached 75.
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