Greece: Syriza’s Tsipras to demand EU action on migrant influx

  • Reuters, Athens
  • Updated: Sep 21, 2015 20:54 IST
Refugees arrive on the shore of Sykamias beach, west of the port city of Mytilini, after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey in Lesvos Island, Greece. (AFP Photo)

As an icon for many on Europe’s left, Greece’s newly-elected prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, can be expected to rattle the cages of the continent’s elite whenever he can.

After Sunday’s solid re-election, he may start with the migrant crisis, which he believes is emblematic of the European Union’s failure to stick with its founding principles of unity.

“When the Mediterranean turns into a watery grave, and the Aegean Sea is washing dead children up on its shores, the very concept of a united Europe is in crisis, as is European culture,” he told a campaign rally last week.

European unity, Tsipras reckons, was also sorely lacking when the EU began imposing harsh austerity on his country when it needed to be bailed out over debt.

But not unlike in the debt crisis, Tsipras must balance his outrage at what he sees as the European Union’s failure to respond to the migrants with a need for its help in meeting the cost to frontline Greece.

And as over debt, the criticism goes both ways.

Most of the refugees who make their way to Europe arrive via Greece, which transports them from its islands to the mainland, from where they trek north via the Balkans. Croatia said on Monday it would demand Greece stop moving the migrants on.

Athens received 33 million euros ($37.2 million) in EU aid earlier this month to help cope with the migrants. But Nicos Christodoulakis, caretaker economy minister during the election campaign, said a lack of preparation meant Greece was missing out on up to 400 million euros in EU aid for the crisis.

Tsipras’ first international meeting after re-election will be a Wednesday discussion in Brussels with his EU counterparts about the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants pouring into Europe, many via Greek islands that border Turkey.

Officials from his leftist Syriza party say he will ally again with other EU countries bordering the Mediterranean such as Italy and demand that the bloc shares the burden of dealing with hundreds of thousands of refugees.

“Member states (must) take and share the responsibility, that’s where the rupture is,” a senior Syriza official said.

The European Commission wants a quota system among EU countries to take up the refugees, but many countries, notably Britain and those in eastern Europe, are opposed.

Greek Landings

Of the record 430,000 refugees and migrants who have made the journey across the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, 309,000 have arrived via Greece, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Athens has been accused of just letting them go without proper registration.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to have Greece emptying its refugee camps and sending people towards Croatia via Macedonia and Serbia,” Croatian interior minister Ranko Ostojic said on Monday.

But near-bankrupt Greece is ill-equipped to deal with the situation. Those of its islands which have borne the brunt of the arrivals have been easily swamped by the numbers: Athens has been forced to run a relay of three ships to the mainland from Lesbos.

The human cost -- the “watery grave” to which Tsipras referred -- is also on constant display.

Over the past weekend alone, 13 migrants died in Turkish waters trying to reach Lesbos when a boat carrying 46 people collided with a dry cargo vessel and capsized.

Six of those killed were children and 20 others were rescued, according to a Turkish coastguard source.

A girl believed to be five years died on Saturday and 13 other migrants were feared lost overboard after their boat sank in choppy seas off Lesbos.

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