Greece 'will not become Lebanon of Europe'

Greece 'will not become Lebanon of Europe'
Greece, the main entry point to the continent for many refugees, says it will not be abandoned by the rest of the European Union to host millions on its own.
3 min read
25 February, 2016
Four million refugees have fled Syria for the relative safety of neighbouring countries [Getty]

Greece has said it will not be left by the rest of the European Union to become the "Lebanon of Europe" by hosting millions of migrants and refugees.

Speaking ahead of a crucial meeting in Brussels, Greek migration minister Yannis Mouzalas criticised other countries for "unilateral" actions that affect Greece.

"A very large number [of participants] here will attempt to discuss how to address a humanitarian crisis in Greece that they themselves intend to create," he told reporters.

"Greece will not accept unilateral actions. Greece can also carry out unilateral actions. Greece will not accept becoming Europe's Lebanon, a warehouse of souls, even if this were to be done with major [EU] funding."

Four million refugees have fled Syria for the relative safety of neighbouring countries, according to the United Nations, with more than one million in Lebanon - swelling the population by 25 percent.

Greece is the main entry point for migrants to the EU, with most coming over the Aegean Sea to Turkey via the Greek islands.


European nations' new restrictions

MACEDONIA: Macedonia on February 21 entirely closed its border to Afghans, stranding hundreds in Greece, and introduced more stringent document checks for Syrians and Iraqis seeking to cross its territory en route to northern and western Europe.

SLOVENIA: On February 15, Slovenia toughened its filtering system for migrants. Parliament on February 22 authorised the army to help police manage the flow of migrants crossing from Croatia, a fellow member of Europe's Schengen passport-free zone.

CROATIA: Croatia began to filter refugees in November, letting through only those fleeing war (Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians). On January 20, Zagreb decided that it would only let through migrants demanding asylum in Germany or Austria.

TURKEY: Turkey, the main departure point for migrants trying to reach the EU, tightened its visa rules for Iraqis in early February.

Athens faces growing pressure to stop "waving through" migrants to the rest of Europe, but it has criticised the response of the EU.

Mouzalas in particular criticised Balkan countries that held talks in Austria on Wednesday at a meeting excluding Greece for agreeing border measures that would affect his country.

Many European nations have adopted a raft of restrictive measures since the beginning of the year as they seek to stem the influx.

Since the beginning of the year more than 110,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe after crossing the Mediterranean, adding to the more than one million people that landed on the continent in 2015, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

But the United Nations says Europe is backing into an even greater refugee crisis by tightening border restrictions on the hundreds of thousands fleeing conflicts elsewhere.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visited the port and the refugees and migrants registration centres there on Tuesday, a day that at least 1,800 people made the dangerous crossing by rubber dinghy from Turkey.

"I am very worried about the news we are getting about the increasing closures of the European borders along the Balkans route," Grandi said, adding that the situation would create further chaos and increase the burden on Greece.

He emphasised the need to further promote the option of relocation, saying the scheme would significantly reduce the numbers moving to Austria, Germany and Sweden and ease the pressure on Greece.