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Greece is creating centres for 20,000 refugees in Athens and Thessaloniki

07 November 2015 / 20:11:40  GRReporter
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Government sources described as "important and useful" the meeting held at the cabinet headquarters to discuss issues related to refugee and migrant flows.

The meeting was chaired by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. It was attended by Archbishop Yeronimos; ministers Alekos Flambouraris, Panagiotis Kouroublis, Terence Quick; the Northern Aegean governor, the South Aegean deputy governor, the mayors of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos, Leros, which have taken the strongest inflows of refugees and migrants, five of the six bishops of these islands, as well as representatives of various departments.

A host of issues were discussed as well as proposals related to the creation of humane living conditions for the migrants. Prime Minister Tsipras emphasised that refugee flows are here to stay, regardless of whether the country will get its act together in responding to the issue. Tsipras also outlined several common problems affecting the islands to a greater or lesser degree, such as:

-       shelter, food, clothing, medical care, transport for the people;

-       cleaning, repairs, electricity;

-       providing the necessary conditions for sustaining hygiene;

-       24-hour operation of hospitals and medical centres;

-       combating marine pollution with objects from non-degradable materials (plastic boats, lifebelts, wrecks, etc.); Lesbos alone has 800 tons of non-recyclable waste, said its mayor;

-       machinery, waste trucks, washing machines, etc.;

-       hiring seasonal staff (drivers, sanitation workers, etc.), among many others.

 

The five islands, plus probably Kalymnos, which is also under pressure, were selected as places for the future reception and identification centres ('hot spots'). They will register arrivals, specify their nationality and refer them to appropriate services. Along with this, two refugee and migrant centres will be set up in Athens and Thessaloniki, which will host 10,000 already registered people each.

According to government sources, it is necessary to have these centres up and running in order to kick off the internal relocation system in Europe. Its piloting began on 4 November with the dispatch of 30 refugees from Greece to Luxembourg.

The meeting also heard proposals for the launch of:

-       a pilot refugee-hosting programme for the islands, provided the EU helps in opening jobs for locals, as well as for refugees and migrants;

-       a tax haven for the islands, which have been hit by refugee flows.

As demanded by all island mayors, the PM will raise the VAT issue before the European institutions. A coordinator will be appointed for each island, and a coordinating body will be set up to bring together coordinators, mayors and regional governors, which will meet every 20 days or whenever necessary.

 

This body will thrash out solutions to urgent problems. The PM assured the participants that 1,000 jobs will be immediately created on the islands. He also said he would raise €380 million from the European institutions to finance a programme bringing relief to local economies across the islands. The programme will be implemented jointly with local governments. Tsipras also informed South Aegean representatives that ESPA projects will be launched while the missing €62 million will be covered through the 2016 co-funded projects.

According to government sources, the church will also play a role in dealing with the situation. Archbishop Yeronimos spoke about the minors who have been sheltered by the church. They are either orphans whose parents have drowned, or made the journey to Europe on their own. Until now, the church has handed out more than 70,000 hot meals, thousands of sleeping bags, blankets, food packages and personal hygiene items. It has also provided support for immunizations and repair works across reception centres.

Another challenge discussed at the meeting was burials of deceased refugees and migrants as local cemeteries have run out of space. There are 75 unburied bodies in Lesbos alone.

After the meeting, Christina Kalogirou, governor of North Aegean, said the scale of the calamity has gone over the top, and all good intentions should be proven through concrete actions. She emphasised that apart from the humanitarian dimension of the crisis, it also has social and financial implications for the islands, which is why they pin their hopes on the support programme. And given the coming winter, there is no time to lose, added Kalogirou.

Lesbos' mayor Spyros Galinos said mayors are in charge of local relief work and will join forces with government coordinators. He vowed that extraordinary measures will be taken to bury the dead.

Samos' mayor Michalis Angelopoulos said he had raised the issue of the synergies between the five islands and the government: "We are 1,000 metres away from Turkey, and with 5,000 meals a day are trying to rival a turnover of $3.5 million on the other side." Angelopoulos said the Coast Guard needs to be reinforced with another 25 employees, police – with another 25, and the municipality with 15 people.

 

Tags: refugees migrants reception and identification centres hot spots Aegean islands Samos Lesbos Kos Chios Leros
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