The European Union’s extremely slow reflexes over the refugee crisis have strained its cohesion as well as the communication between all member countries, South Aegean Prefect George Hadjimarkos said on Wednesday on the sidelines of the ITB trade show.
Following recent talks between the European Union and Turkey on migration, EU leaders are hoping to reach a deal with Ankara on March 17 to curb the flow of refugees — mainly Syrians — coming into Europe.
Greece remains by far the largest single entry point for new sea arrivals in the Mediterranean. Professionals on the islands/entry points have voiced concern over the impact of the refugee crisis on tourism (decreased bookings, cancelled charter flights and cruise-ship port calls).
“We are glad that they began to deal with the matter in its essence”, Mr Hadjimarkos told GTP.
According to the South Aegean prefect there are two keys to the refugee crisis: “Turkey” and “internal communication” within the EU.
“The EU’s collective stance lacks coherence… If the EU can form a common position on the situation itself and Turkey’s demands then it will achieve all its objectives.”
More than one million migrants entered Europe last year from Turkey (the vast majority arriving by sea), causing a stir in the 28-nation bloc with regards to managing the wave of migration.
“I hope the agreement goes through and that Turkey will come to understand that it is the only one that can solve the problem”, Kos Mayor George Kiritsis told GTP.
Mayor Kiritsis underlined that Europe must perceive that the situation is not easy to be managed by Greece alone and that Greece is not the problem.
“The problem is if Turkey can be persuaded to apply the European legislation and the agreements it makes with Europe”, he said.
“If Turkey does not come through and is just using this situation in order to gain what it wants from Europe then all is lost.”
Turkey has said that its would make greater efforts to contain irregular migration if Europe speeds up negotiations for its accession to the European Union and Turkish nationals receive visa-free travel by June. Turkey also requested a further three billion euros until the end of 2018 to help shelter Syrians, doubling the amount of an earlier offer.
On his part, the Deputy Regional Governor of Samos Nikolaos Katrakazos said: “We are all aware that the refugee solution is described in one word: Turkey.”
Mr Katrakazos told GTP that the real question is if Turkey will in fact do all that it promises.
Out of the islands of the North Aegean Region, Lesvos has been affected the most in terms of bookings and is followed by Samos.
Turkey has said that if demands are met, in return it would take back all illegal migrants reaching the Greek islands. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has suggested for every Syrian readmitted by Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU member states.
According to UN figures, Turkey shelters more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees.