ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hosted leaders of Europe's Mediterranean countries Friday as his government rejected a return to European Union immigration rules that existed before last year's crisis.
Tsipras met French President Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and leaders from Portugal, Cyprus and Malta in Athens to discuss the bloc migration and debt crises. Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy did not attend.
"Regardless of our ideological backgrounds what unites us are our common sea, and common problems, and faith in a European vision," Tsipras said at the start of the talks.
Immigration is high on the agenda. But a Greek government spokesman on immigration said Athens is rejecting the reactivation of the so-called Dublin Regulation, which would allow other EU members to send asylum-seekers back to Greece.
"A country such as Greece which receives a large number of refugees from Turkey, and also hosts a large number of refugees — practically without any outside help — cannot be asked to receive refugees from other European countries," Giorgos Kyritsis told The Associated Press. "That would be outrageous."
The Dublin Regulation that governs Europe's Schengen passport-free area stipulates that people wishing to apply for asylum must do so in the first member country they arrive in. In most cases that was Greece, whose eastern islands were overwhelmed last year by migrants packed into smugglers boats from Turkey.
But even before last year's migration crisis, many of its EU partners had stopped enforcing the rule because Greece's asylum and migrant reception systems were below standard.
"Unless there is an effective means of redistribution across the EU, a revised Dublin system will force refugees upon receiving states closest to the external border, above all Greece, Italy and to a lesser extent Spain," Brad Blitz, migration expert and professor of international politics at Middlesex University in Britain, told the AP.
"That will create an ever greater strain on (Greece's) asylum system and reception capacity."
Friday's talks are in preparation for next week's informal EU leaders' summit in Bratislava, Slovakia, as the bloc remains rattled by Britain's referendum vote to leave the EU and recent gains for the nationalist vote in Germany.
More than a million refugees and migrants traveled across Greece since the start of last year and authorities are struggling to cope with 60,000 people stranded here by European border closures.
Fearing a surge in anti-migrant sentiment across the EU, Greece is pressing member states to abide by commitments made for a relocation program — that has covered less that 10 percent of the 33,000 placements promised to migrants in Greece so far.
"The wave of xenophobia and racism must be countered ... United Europe needs to return to its founding principles," deputy Foreign Minister Nikos Xydakis said.
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