Greece and the EU called on Turkey to take back migrants from the Aegean islands during a meeting on Tuesday between Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson.
Greece has expressed support for the European Commission’s proposal for the new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum.
The proposal concerns the management of the migration-refugee problem, where a disproportionate burden is currently being borne by the first-reception countries, such as Greece.
According to sources, both sides agreed that substantial improvements are needed on the basis of solidarity, so that front-line member states are not solely responsible for managing the migration problem.
They also stressed the need for full implementation of the EU-Turkey Joint Statement of March 18, 2016, according to which Ankara would take back asylum seekers from Greek islands who had their applications rejected.
“I call on Turkey to urgently resume the return of migrants from Greece,” said Johansson during a visit to the island of Lesvos on Monday, which hosts more than 8,000 asylum seekers.
Her comments come as diplomats announced that top EU politicians Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel would hold talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan next week over migration and other regional issues.
New migrant facilities in Greece
The Greek PM and Johansson also discussed developments regarding the reception of refugees and migrants in Greece.
“A year after the Lesvos incident, the Moria fire, and after this great sense of insecurity that was evident on all the islands, we have now made significant progress in terms of the decongestion of the islands,” Mitsotakis said.
“We are moving forward with the help of the EU, with the construction of permanent facilities on the islands, which is a decisive change, compared to what has happened in the past,” he added.
On her part, the EU Commissioner noted that there is very good cooperation on many issues, adding that in the last year the EU and Greece have achieved a great deal together, including not only decongesting the islands, but also on the fallout from the fire in Moria, and the construction of new structures.
She said that it was good to have had the opportunity to visit and talk with people on the ground, including local residents, migrants, mayors and the NGOs.
The European Commission, the EU executive, on Monday pledged 276 million euros ($326 million) of EU money for new camps on the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros.
NGOs estimate there are nearly 14,000 migrants currently living there.
Greece’s Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi echoed Johansson’s call, urging Ankara to accept 1,450 migrants whose asylum applications had been rejected.
He has said new migrant camps are being built to host migrant populations, with one in Samos to completed by June and others in Kos and Leros by September.