Dimitris Vitsas, minister of Migration Policy. AMNA

Migration minister interview: “We must relieve refugee camps and the islands from pressures”

Migration Policy Minister Dimitris Vitsas stated on Monday that there are six locations and particularly three northern Aegean islands where overcrowding at migrant camps must be eased, speaking to Athens-Macedonian News Agency’s radio “Praktoreio”.

“I believe we must relieve and ease Lagadikia and Diavata, as well as Skaramangas and the islands,” he said. Achieving this meant that two things must happen simultaneously, the minister noted, namely the opening of two camps and boosting a programme for hosting refugees in apartments. “Therefore, what we want is for more municipalities to cooperate in order for this programme to proceed at a satisfactory rate,” he added.

Referring to the refugees’ integration programme, he clarified that “there must be a new six-month hosting programme for those who have been granted asylum but continue, effectively, to live as asylum-seekers, so what we need is an interim programme.”

On the relocation programme announced by the European Commission for the reception in EU countries in the next two years of 50,000 refugees arriving directly from Africa, the Middle East and Turkey, providing a safe and legal alternative to the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean, Vitsas noted: “At this time the number that is proposed – and has not started yet – is not in my opinion satisfactory for the five countries of first reception. But the programme must begin anyway in order for the system to have release valves that allow people to go to other countries, even if it would be best for them to return to their countries in safety and restore them.

On the EU-Turkey agreement, the minister estimated that “the collapse of the agreement would not be in anyone’s interest and the discussion with my Turkish counterpart does not indicate such a thing”.

Referring to the unaccompanied children, he said that “the issue is the responsibility of the Labour and Social Solidarity Ministry, which is setting up its shelters in order to have the appropriate refuge and the appropriate attitude towards these children”.

On issues of medical care and education, the minister said that “a comprehensive programme exists which allows ever more and younger children to attend school and of course this will broaden. Another issue we are currently discussing is what to do with the children living for two or three months at the hotspots like Moria or VIAL in Samos while they wait for a decision on whether they qualify for asylum. We must find ways to keep them active so that afterwards they can attend school normally. We must create conditions in relation to the islands themselves, as providing educational processes within the hotspots. It is very important that they do not lose contact [with learning],” he said.


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