Greece, under EU fire for failing to keep illegal migrants out of Europe, roundly shifted the blame on Turkey as it vowed Wednesday to gather and repatriate those trying to sneak in illegally.
ATHENS- Speaking as migration emerges as one of Europe's most sensitive political issues, Greece's Citizen's Protection Minister Michalis Chryssohoidis called on the European Union to ensure Turkey respect agreements to repatriate illegals as he vowed Athens would tighten its own controls.
"Turkey our neighbour so far has made no effort to stop illegal migration flows." "This is a European problem," he said at a European Parliament hearing where he vowed Greece was determined to clear its reputation for porous borders.
The minister, a Socialist veteran, said Athens would upgrade facilities for asylum seekers while opening "in three or four days" the first of a series of "closed" detention centres, enabling authorities to clear streets of undocumented foreigners.
"Now things will change," he said as he pledged to tighten borders, improve policing and keep illegal workers out as austerity-hit Greeks point the finger at migrants in the run-up to the Greek election.
But repatriating illegal aliens remained a problem as long as Turkey failed to abide by a so-called "readmission" accord under which it agreed to take back migrants who slipped across its border with Greece.
Chryssohoidis said that in the decade since the accord was struck, Turkey had agreed to take back less than 4,000 people despite requests for tens of thousands of "readmissions".
The EU also needed to make it an obligation for all third countries associated with migratory flows to agree to take back their nationals when they signed accords with Brussels, he said.
As war, chaos and poverty sends droves of people fleeing hot-spots from Iraq to Somalia, the situation was likely to worsen before it improved, he said.
"We cannot integrate all these people," he said, many of them flying into Turkey on low-cost flights from hungry corners of Africa. "We have a huge number of illegal migrants and it's a huge burden. I would appeal to you for cooperation and solidarity."