Minister sees refugee crisis easing by week’s end

12 March 2016
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The situation in the sprawling camp of Idomeni in northern Greece and at Piraeus port will be eased by the end of the week with the creation of accommodation for 50,000 refugees, Alternate Defense Minister Dimitris Vitsas said on Friday.

“We need to convince these people, in every possible, non-violent way, that there are shelters in mainland Greece to host them,” he said, dismissing reports that a police sweep was planned to evacuate the overcrowded Idomeni camp.

“There is no plan for police to evacuate Idomeni. Fifty percent of the people there are children,” he said, adding that in the long run Greece will have 20,000 refugees.

According to the latest figures, there are currently 42,253 refugees and migrants scattered around Greece. At the moment, Greece has a capacity to accommodate 30,000.

Despite the closure of the Balkan route into Europe, authorities are still finding it difficult to convince refugees that it is pointless to head for the Idomeni area and the closed border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

“These people maintain the hope that a number of them will cross to the north,” Citizens’ Protection Minister Nikos Toskas said on Friday. “We’re trying to convince them… that the Balkan route has closed.”

Nevertheless, refugee flows into Greece continue daily and Vitsas reiterated that the focus must remain on eliminating traffickers operating out of Turkey.

“I think we should turn more of our attention to the traffickers,” he said.

Greece, which has borne the humanitarian and financial brunt of the refugee crisis, welcomed the European Union’s new 700-million-euro aid program last week.

Christos Stylianidis, the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, said on Friday that other European assistant funds will soon follow.

“It is a moral duty for Europe to help the refuges,” he said after meeting with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens.

However, FYROM President Gjorge Ivanov lashed out at the Greek government on Friday in an interview with German daily Bild, saying it was not making proper use of the assistance funds.

“The get all they want. The only problem is they’re doing nothing with it,” he said.

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