Greece Wants EU Funding to Tackle Migrant Influx
Greece will ask the European Union for about 700 million euros to build infrastructure to shelter the hundreds of refugees and migrants arriving on its shores daily, the government said on Thursday.
The cash-strapped country has seen a rise in the number of refugees and migrants -- mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan -- arriving by sea from nearby Turkey.
Aid agencies estimate about 2,000 people cross over to Greek islands including Kos, Lesbos, Samos and Chios every day.
The interim government said it planned to set up a new operations centre and take steps to improve conditions at existing refugee centers.
Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis said the country will seek EU funds earmarked to address the crisis.
"There is a major funding issue which should be addressed urgently," Christodoulakis told a news conference.
"The minimum sum Greece needs is 400 million euros from the asylum fund and 330 million from the fund for poor to tackle urgent needs for infrastructure."
Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission and EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos, are in Athens to meet Greek officials. They will meet police and coast guard officials on Kos on Friday.
"Europe must fight an unprecedented crisis, a humanitarian crisis, a political crisis and we must find a European response for a problem that cannot be dealt by each member-state separately," Timmermans said at the start of a meeting interim Prime Minister Vassiliki Thanou.
Timmermans said he had come to Athens to offer help from the EU.
"We are here today to discuss with the Greek government the best way that we can quickly implement the decisions that are necessary for us to be able to assist financially and with people and material so that the situation becomes better," he told reporters.
The migrant crisis in Greece has been particularly severe on the island of Lesbos, which has seen a record number of refugees arriving this year, according to the British charity International Rescue Committee.
With facilities on the island strained by the influx, thousands of refugees slept rough at Lesbos' main port overnight on Wednesday, the charity said. It urged police to speed up the registration process to avoid tensions on the island.
Greece promised on Thursday to provide financial help to the many eastern Greek islands that are feeling the pressure from the migrants influx.
"Many northern and southern Aegean islands have faced a dive in tourist traffic in recent months," Christodoulakis said. "If we don't address that, we will have a new domestic wave of unemployed and poor."
Christoudoulakis also called Greek ship-owners to offer vessels as temporary accommodation for refugees and blamed Europe for a lukewarm response to the migration issue.
"These difficult problems cannot be solved at the sitting rooms in Europe or in other countries but at the piers and at the shores who receive scores of refugees every day," he said.
(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Editing by Matthias Williams and Angus MacSwan)