Greek, Turkish officials step up talks on refugee flows
ATHENS – Agence France-Presse
Greek and Turkish officials are to step up meetings on managing refugee flows to Greece, Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas said on Nov. 15, after a significant jump in arrivals through the land border with Turkey.
Vitsas said he will see Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu in January after Greece has confronted an increase of about 17 percent overall in refugee and migrant arrivals compared to last year.
"We are trying to plan for whatever may happen, barring a situation like 2015 when a million people crossed over to Europe," Vitsas told a news conference.
He added that the respective heads of the Greek and Turkish coastguard would also meet in coming weeks, and there have been increased contacts between police officials on the Greek-Turkish land border.
While an EU-Turkey deal struck two years ago has greatly limited unchecked flows of migrants into Greece, there has been a recent uptick on a smaller scale.
Greek authorities have recorded over 14,000 irregular entries across the Turkish border so far this year, in addition to another 28,000 who made the perilous Aegean Sea crossing, the minister said.
In comparison, in 2017 saw just 5,500 crossing the land border, out of a total 36,000 refugee and migrant arrivals, he added.
The sharp increase in overland arrivals has been accompanied by successive deadly accidents in the north of the country, as illegal networks cram dozens of migrants into cars driven by teenagers. Vitsas said 13 refugees and migrants had been killed in such accidents over the last six weeks.
By the end of the year, room to accommodate an additional 24,000 people will have been created on the Greek mainland to alleviate pressure on island camps, which are stretched well beyond their nominal capacity, the minister added.
As a result, the country can manage an increase of 15-20 percent in arrivals next year, Vitsas said.
"The Greek state must be ready... we must create a reserve (in accommodation)," he said.
"Personally, I estimate arrivals will drop in 2019," he said.
There are also plans to create stand-alone health centres inside camps to handle routine illnesses.