ATHENS – The European Union’s home affairs commissioner on Monday stressed the need for solidarity among the bloc’s member states in tackling migration, and called on Turkey to resume accepting the return of people whose asylum applications are rejected in Greece after arriving from Turkish territory.
Ylva Johansson and Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi spoke on the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos after visiting migrant facilities there and on the island of Samos.
Johansson’s visit comes amid continuing accusations against Greece of illegal summary deportations, and as EU countries discuss a new migration pact to deal with the issue of people seeking asylum in Europe.
The vast majority of asylum-seekers arrive by sea in the countries on the EU’s southern and southeastern borders: Greece, Italy and Spain. Those three, along with the also affected island nations of Malta and Cyprus, have joined forces to lobby for a more equal distribution among the bloc’s other members.
“What we have been seeing in Europe the last six years is the lack of a Europeanized migration policy, and that means that member states at our external borders have been under huge pressure,” Johansson said during a joint press conference with Mitarachi. “And especially some islands have been under huge pressure in the absence of a European solution.”
Johansson said she understood “that everybody has a limit to their patience, and I understand that this limit is close” in some areas, such as Lesbos.
In Greece, the main brunt of migration has been borne by the eastern Aegean islands, which are close to Turkey and thus a favored route for people-smuggling gangs. Local residents on both islands held protests during Johansson's visit.
A 2016 EU-Turkey deal stipulates that new arrivals must remain on the islands pending return to Turkey unless their asylum application is successful. The agreement reduced arrivals but did not stop them entirely, leading to massively overcrowded island camps