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17:24, 20 January 2017 Friday

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EU migration chief in Greece over islands' refugee 'burden'
EU migration chief in Greece over islands' refugee 'burden'

The dispute peaked earlier this month when the Greek immigration ministry accused local officials of impeding efforts to find replacement accommodation for hundreds of migrants sleeping in sub-zero temperatures.

World Bulletin / News Desk

The EU's migration chief on Friday huddled with the mayors of five Greek islands where anger is mounting over the continued presence of more than 15,000 refugees and migrants.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, who is Greek, sought to reassure the mayors of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros, who have repeatedly accused the Athens government of ignoring calls to alleviate pressure on their congested migrant camps.

"We agreed that last week's images must not be seen again," Avramopoulos told reporters after the meeting, referring to footage of migrant tents buried in snow.

A group of Lesbos islanders last year were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for helping thousands of refugees and migrants landing ashore in 2015 after risking their lives to cross the Aegean Sea.

But the island's mayor Spyros Galinos says the authorities must permit the relocation of the most vulnerable refugees to the mainland, and remove a minority linked to petty crime.

"Things are not going well. We are bearing a burden that local society can no longer manage," Galinos told reporters.

There are over 60,000 mainly Syrian refugees and migrants from other nations trapped in Greece since early 2016, when neighbouring countries further north shut their borders to prevent a massive flow to wealthy European countries.

While a deal subsequently signed between the European Union and Turkey has drastically cut new arrivals, nearly 700 people have arrived in Greece in the last two weeks, the International Organisation for Migration said on Tuesday.

Most of them have joined an overcrowded, increasingly desperate population on the islands, packed in camps that have now exceeded their original capacity.

Avramopoulos said the EU had already set aside funds for additional refugee accommodation and that they should be utilised.

The immigration ministry has refused to permit large-scale relocation from the islands to the Greek mainland, fearing that such a move could jeopardise the EU-Turkey agreement.

There are frequent brawls in the island camps, with the residents tired of the long wait for asylum papers and fearful of being returned to Turkey.



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