Strasbourg, 01.06.2011 – Christos Papoutsis, Greece’s Minister for Citizen Protection, has acknowledged his country’s “serious problems” with flows of irregular migrants, with huge implications for Greek society and economy – but pledged to handle them “with sensitivity and responsibility”.
Speaking to PACE’s Migration Committee today in Corfu, the Minister pointed out that 132,000 iregular immigrants were arrested in 2010 alone, the equivalent of a middle-sized Greek town, with up to 300 arriving every day: “Simply put, illegal immigration is a problem which hurts Greece in many ways. Our country cannot sustain this any more – Greek society has reached its limits.”
Mr Papoutsis, a former European Commissioner, said the Greek authorities were making “giant efforts every day” to implement the EU action plan on migration, in line with international and EU law. But he also called for “fair burden-sharing” among EU member states: “Especially now, when my country is trying to overcome a tough fiscal situation, Greece cannot be a storehouse of irregular migrants for the whole of Europe.”
He stressed that the Hellenic Coastguard had shown a “high level of responsibility” in dealing with migrants arriving by sea – including rescuing many migrants who appeared to jump into the sea to oblige their rescue: “We always place human life as a top priority – we have an obligation to protect the lives of those in our country, legally or illegally.”
On a diplomatic level, the Minister said Greece was continuing consultations for readmission agreements with third states, and revision of the Dublin II Regulations, which was “of the utmost political importance”. He also called for expanded powers for the EU’s border agency FRONTEX, a co-ordinated policy on repatriation, and maintaining Schengen to boost security at the EU’s external borders.
In his intervention Konstantinos Vrettos, head of the Greek delegation to PACE, said Greece was “sparing no effort” to create the right conditions for migrants to enjoy their rights, but he also called for a “fair distribution of responsibilities and solidarity” among EU member states.
Other speakers included Rodoula Zissi, Vice-President of the Hellenic Parliament and Chair of its European Affairs Committee, and Anna Dalara, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Security.