Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ statement following the conclusion of the government meeting on the management of issues related to the refugee flows
Today we held an extraordinary Ministerial meeting, which I chaired at the office of the Deputy Minister for Immigration Policy, Ms. Tasia Christodoulopoulou, to examine the acute problems we’ve faced in the past, and especially of late, due to the soaring influx of refugees and migrants, particularly on the islands.
This is an issue that isn’t solely confined to Greece. It’s an international issue, a European issue; we have tens of thousands of people arriving in Europe daily through Greece and Italy seeking to escape their countries’ problems. Thus, we have to deal with an issue that has assumed enormous proportions, a European problem which has assumed enormous proportions, precisely because of the prevailing conditions in the refugees’ countries of origin, mainly in Syria, as well as in other countries that have experienced protracted wars and violence.
It is clear that the influx of refugees and migrants is a result of the military interventions carried out by the West, particularly in Syria and Libya, as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the recent past. However, it is the host countries, unfortunately that are called upon to exclusively deal with this issue–and it is grave one–both for Italy, as well as for Greece.
The Greek government has highlighted the European dimension of this problem and has requested, in two successive Summits, that all existing tools be utilized, as well as new emergency European funds to tackle the problem. But above all, we’ve asked that the principle of sharing responsibility be followed, per the European Union’s founding values of solidarity and shared responsibility. I’d like to call attention to the fact that for the first time, Greece was included in both the first and second Summit decisions – I mention this because it was not obvious in the original plan.
There was special reference to Greece and Italy during both the first and second meetings, as the two European countries for which the possibility of providing special funds, technical teams, technical means and special experts must be considered, as well as a number of refugees to be sent to other European Union countries. Unfortunately, because of the persistence of some countries, it was decided that this should be done on a voluntary basis. And here arises a serious problem: the principle of solidarity cannot be treated in an a la carte manner and voluntarily by certain countries. It is worth noting that the newest members of the European community refuse to adopt the principle of solidarity, and request instead that the host countries mainly deal with the problem. Our cooperation with the countries of the South–the host countries–remains constant, as we attempt to face the problem together. And we will continue to do so.
During today’s inter-Ministerial meeting we focused on operational planning to address the acute problems we’re facing. We reached the following decisions:
We agreed that the Minister of State, Alekos Flambouraris and the relevant Deputy Minister, Tasia Christodoulopoulou, would oversee the ongoing coordination of the relevant Ministries and Ministers. The goal of this ongoing coordination is to immediately address the overcrowding of the islands’ reception centers, reinforce the infrastructure at the first point of reception, improve refugee identification procedures and make the earliest possible transfer from the islands to the mainland.
Secondly, we decided to expedite procedures for the immediate establishment of a Special Management Authority per European legislative framework that we voted on in the last bill on citizenship. This Authority will be able to directly utilize relevant European funds, both for border security and for the integration of refugees into society. I have instructed that licenses to be issued to enable the Authority’s functioning in the coming days, so that we can immediately make use of the European funds attained at the last Summits to address the problems of refugee reception and integration.
We also decided to undertake all possible initiatives to highlight the international dimension of the problem – I repeat, the problem is not confined to Greece: it is international, it is European. With relevant representations both to the EU and to the UN, and by strengthening cooperation and diplomatic efforts with neighboring countries, particularly with Turkey. As you are aware, there is a significant accumulation of refugees in Turkey at the moment—the number is quite large. This is why consultation and cooperation with Turkey is necessary, not just for Greece, but also for the European Union, and why relevant support and funds must be directed there.
I formally submitted a request for this at the last Summit, where the decision was made to hold official EU talks with our neighboring country.
Talks between Greece and all of our neighboring countries are of particular importance in order to coordinate the best possible control of refugee and migration flows.
Additionally, we decided to undertake broader initiatives to inform both the governments and the people of Europe about the depth and the impact of the problem currently faced by Greece.
Lastly, we decided to undertake all initiatives to use existing state infrastructure, as well as to mobilize local government infrastructure, and to make use of volunteer efforts by civil society, NGOs, volunteers, citizens who stand in solidarity, who have already taken significant action to address the problem.
As I announced in the Parliament last Friday, we’ve identified a relocation site for the refugees from the Pedio tou Areos area, and the transfer process is being intensively implemented now by all state services. There was a delay because of the need to find a location within the city limits, which would be accessible to the refugees, but which would not be a purely residential area. The electricity and water company crews had to first ensure that electricity, water supply and sanitation were available. Their work will soon be completed in the coming days, and services provided will be available in every small residence that will house the refugee families. Our goal is to create a welcoming area where the refugees will live in dignity, and in sanitary and humane conditions.
I would like to thank both the Municipality and the City Council of Athens for their contribution. I’d also like to highlight the extremely important contribution made by volunteers, who transformed the Pedio tou Areos area into a solidarity park for our fellow men and women that are seeking a life with dignity.
Our efforts to face the problem will be ongoing, despite the fact that this a tremendous strain on our country. Greece is a country in economic crisis. However, it is also facing a major crisis, a humanitarian one, in the midst of the economic one. We will do everything possible to fulfill our obligation, to give from our limited available funds to these people in need. We will also do everything possible, however, to illustrate the true dimensions of the problem, which exceed the abilities of our country. This is a European problem, and as such must be addressed with the founding principle of solidarity.
The EU serves no purpose if it will be a Union of individual states where each serves its own interests. It will be a Union with no prospects and future. The issue of Greece is already testing the EU. In my view, the outcome regarding the economic crisis was negative. I hope that the EU will respond positively to this important humanitarian issue and act with solidarity in its treatment of the refugee flows. It is not possible for host countries to be warehouses of human lives, nor can the Mediterranean become a sea-cemetery. Of course, border controls and preventive and essential monitoring must be stepped up within the legal framework. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that these people are seeking a better life, and it is certainly not part of our value system or mindset to sink crafts with small children and defenseless people. Of course the borders must be monitored. This can only happen with substantial cooperation between our country, the EU and the neighboring countries, in order to effectively respond to the refugee and migrant flows, as well as address the underlying causes of these flows–causes that include wars and interventions carried out in these countries, where today, we are reaping the chaos of the seeds that were sown.
However, we believe that with a plan, with determination, with solidarity – a characteristic shared by many Greek people; after all, the refugee issue is part of their DNA: the Greek people were for many years refugees from Asia Minor, as well as from Greece to other countries in Europe, and to America – the Greek people can face this problem. We will face it on the basis of these values, but we will also demand the EU’s greatest possible contribution to address this common problem.
Those who tried to exploit this acute problem over the past six months to fuel partisanship and their own petty agendas will be exposed. They were exposed, in part, after Easter when they claimed that the migrant and refugee flows were due to the political change in Greece. Shortly thereafter, the tragic events in Lampedusa occurred, which refuted their claims. Similar claims are once again being made—and while I believe that Greek society is aware of the truth—I am addressing those who are cavalier regarding the spread of racist ideas and intolerance, a spread of ideas that has led to the Golden Dawn increasing its parliamentary influence. I am also addressing the Media as well, because some – obviously not all – but some have nurtured this phenomenon. The migrant and refugee issue should neither fuel partisanship nor petty political agendas. And whoever attempts to do so, will be exposed. This is an issue that requires cooperation among all political forces, regardless of political and ideological approaches, to find ways to address an acute problem. And as far as we are concerned, as a Government, we will do exactly that, and we will ask for the contribution of all forces and all citizens.
Thank you very much.