Greece is reaching the point where it can no longer handle on its own the number of immigrants reaching its shores, the migration minister said.
While the situation is not yet as bad as the during the crisis of 2015 and 2016, the number of arrivals jumped 240% in the period from May to September this year, George Koumoutsakos said in a written response to questions during a visit to Washington.
“If this trend continues, we will then face a very serious situation,” Koumoutsakos said.
As a front-line state, the new Greek government is enhancing border controls, building closed centers to hold migrants due to be expelled and trying to establish more effective ways to send people home if their asylum claims are denied.
But Athens is also warning its European partners that they will face consequences if Greece’s resources are overwhelmed.
“If Greece overflows, there will be secondary flows to other European countries as well,” Koumoutsakos said. Greece wants EU members to open up negotiations on a new system for spreading the burden of handling immigrants.
The so-called Dublin agreement currently in place proved inadequate during the crisis and Greece has three priorities for improving the system.
- A fair distribution of the immigration burden among all EU members
- Tougher action, including sanctions, to force third countries to accept the return of people denied the right to stay in Europe
- A crisis mechanism for when asylum applications exceed a certain threshold in any one country
Greece is also working closely with European partners and the U.S. to tackle situations that could pose security issues, such as the recent case of an American suspected of being an Islamic State militant who was stranded between Turkey and Greece.
Turkey has been very persistent in suggesting it could open the doors to Europe for millions of Syrian refugees, Koumoutsakos said.
“The constant repetition of these threats is a source of particular concern and certainly a factor of vigilance and alertness not only for Greece, but for Europe as a whole,” he added.