ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The head of the Council of Europe said Tuesday that other European countries should do more to share the burden of tackling illegal migration to the continent, a problem that has disproportionately affected the continent's southern countries.
The vast majority of migrants trying to enter the European Union illegally do so through the southern border countries of Greece, Italy and Spain. Hundreds have died this month alone trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa on rickety smuggling ships. The countries of the European south, which have also been suffering from a severe financial crisis over recent years, have long called for more assistance from the north.
"I think it's a shame how Europe has handled this. A small group of countries have taken the whole burden, and my sympathy goes ... to them," Thorbjoern Jagland, who heads the continent's top human rights organization, told The Associated Press in an interview during a two-day visit to Athens.
"There should be more of a burden sharing in Europe when it comes to dealing with this huge challenge. But I see no signs that this will happen," Jagland said. "Therefore, I think that it's important now to see how we can work with those countries that are having the highest burden there."
The head of the Council of Europe, which includes 47 member states, including the 28 nations in the European Union, stressed it was possible for other European countries to help those bearing the brunt of migration flows without having to accept larger numbers of refugees themselves.
While the Council of Europe does not have a say in forming European migration policy, it does have "a clear responsibility when it comes to how the immigrants are being treated when they arrive at the borders and how they are being treated afterwards," Jagland said.
Rights groups have strongly criticized Greece in the past for the conditions inside its immigrant detention centers, where hundreds of migrants rounded up across the country for lacking the correct documentation are held until they can be expelled.