Greece announces measures for refugees on islands

AP News
Posted: Sep 02, 2015 8:35 AM
Greece announces measures for refugees on islands

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's caretaker government announced measures Wednesday to improve conditions for the tens of thousands of refugees and migrants arriving on eastern Greek islands, and to bolster support for the islands' residents.

The country has borne the brunt of a massive refugee and migration influx to the European Union, with more than 200,000 people arriving so far this year. The coast guard said it had rescued 1,058 people at sea in 28 incidents from Tuesday morning to Wednesday morning. Those do not include hundreds who make it to the islands themselves.

Prime Minister Vassiliki Thanou's office said the government, appointed last week to lead the country until Sept. 20 early elections, is improving staffing, infrastructure and conditions at island reception centers and is speeding up the registration process for refugees arriving in the country.

It is also creating a coordination center for the management of refugee flows, which will include key government ministers and members of the police and coast guard, while the armed forces would also contribute.

The government was also "activating procedures for the immediate use of existing European support programs" and funds, and speeding up the use of available funds to support island economies.

The left-wing government of Alexis Tsipras, which resigned last month, has been criticized for failing to act on the issue. The EU has been waiting for weeks for Greece to submit documentation necessary for the release of 30 million euros ($34 million) earmarked for the country to deal with the situation.

"The problem is very big. I am optimistic that a crisis will be avoided," Migration Policy Minister Yannis Mouzalas said after a meeting with Thanou to discuss the issue.

Mouzalas, a doctor and member of the Doctors of the World aid organization, said European Union and United Nations intervention was needed.

"If the European Union doesn't intervene quickly to absorb the populations, ... if the issue isn't internationalized on a United Nations level, every so often we will be discussing how to avoid the crisis."

Mouzalas insisted the issue was a refugee, and not a migration, matter.

"There is no migration issue, remove that — it is a refugee issue," he told journalists.