Greece, along with Italy, Cyprus, and Malta, issued a joint statement on Saturday calling on EU member states to share the burden of undocumented migrants arriving on their shores.
The four Mediterranean countries say they are bearing the heaviest burden of the management of migratory flows.
They note they “cannot subscribe to the notion that countries of first entry are the only possible European landing spots for illegal immigrants.”
They added that the number of migrants taken in by other EU member states “only represents a very small fraction of the actual number of irregular arrivals.”
The four countries also condemned the operations of private charity vessels “acting in total autonomy from the competent state authorities” to save hundreds of migrants rescued at sea.
Earlier in November, at least twenty-seven migrants died off the coast of Evia in central Greece after a boat sank. In October, more than twenty died after two migrant boats sank off the islands of Lesvos and Kythera.
Last week, Italy refused to let 250 people from two migrant rescue ships disembark on its shores. Children and people with medical issues were allowed to leave the ships in Catania, Sicily, but others were not.
Greece, Italy, Malta, and Cyprus statement on migrants in full
Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus, as the countries of first entry into Europe, through the Central and Eastern Mediterranean route, are bearing the heaviest burden of the management of migratory flows in the Mediterranean, in full compliance with all international obligations and EU rules.
We have always strongly supported the need to develop a new European policy on migration and asylum, truly inspired by the principles of solidarity and responsibility, that would be equitably shared among all Member States.
On June 10, 2022, we approved a Political Declaration establishing a temporary and voluntary relocation mechanism despite the fact that the MED 5 countries supported a mandatory relocation scheme. Unfortunately, the number of pledges for relocation made by participating member states only represents a very small fraction of the actual number of irregular arrivals that we have received so far this year. Moreover, to date, the mechanism has been slow on delivering on its stated goal of alleviating the burden that we, as front line member states, are constantly exposed to, as only a small number of relocations has been implemented thus far. This is unfortunate and disappointing, especially at this point in time when our countries are increasingly faced with a migratory pressure that is putting a strain on our asylum and reception system.
Pending agreement on an effective, fair, and permanent burden sharing mechanism, we cannot subscribe to the notion that countries of first entry are the only possible European landing spots for illegal immigrants, especially when this happens in an uncoordinated fashion based on the basis of a choice made by private vessels, acting in total autonomy from the competent state authorities.
We reiterate our position that the modus operandi of these private vessels is not in line with the spirit of the international legal framework concerning search and rescue operations, which should be respected. Every state shall effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control over ships flying its flag.
With full respect to the competencies of littoral states in accordance with international law, we consider that a serious discussion on how to better coordinate these operations in the Mediterranean is necessary and urgent. This includes ensuring that all these private vessels respect the relevant international conventions and other applicable rules and that all flag states take responsibility in accordance with their international obligations. We ask the European Commission and the Presidency to take the necessary steps to initiate this discussion.