EU envoy meets struggling island chiefs

20 January 2017
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European Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos has told the mayors of five eastern Aegean islands that have borne the brunt of the migration crisis that their demand for the decongestion of overcrowded reception centers will be achieved through further cooperation with Turkey as part of the deal signed with Brussels to stem flows into Europe.

“Managing the refugee and migrant issue is a European and a national challenge,” Avramopoulos said on Friday, adding that the deal between Turkey and the EU, signed in March, must continue being implemented and expedited.

To this end, senior Interior Ministry officials and European Commission delegates paid a visit to Ankara on Friday to organize the weekly returns of refugees and migrants to Turkey as stipulated in the March deal.

Referring to the poor living conditions of many migrants, Avramopoulos said “the recent harsh weather conditions have exposed some shortages” and called on the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to immediately set up the winter shelters funded by the EU Commission.

He also added that hot-spot coordinators must be deployed to their posts as soon as possible, and insisted on the need for cooperation with local authorities.

The mayors, who have formed a unified front in their bid for the immediate transfer to the Greek mainland of some 1,500 to 2,000 migrants, said their meeting with Avramopoulos was positive and constructive.

Sources said that hundreds of these migrants on Lesvos, Chios and Samos are ready for relocation as their asylum applications have been processed, while others belong to vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, children and the elderly. Samos Mayor Michalis Angelopoulos described the situation as crucial and reiterated the need for the problem to be dealt with collectively.

Speaking to reporters, Avramopoulos said he will discuss “every possible initiative to support the islands, including measures of economic support.”

According to sources, the question of financial aid to the islands was also raised at the meeting, as the islands themselves have footed most of the bill since the crisis arrived on their shores. Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos said funds have been drawn from local budgets to cover the operating costs of hot spots and reception centers on the islands.

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