KARA TEPE, Greece (AP) — The Greek government on Tuesday urged the European Union to jointly run new refugee camps on Greece’s eastern islands as part of an overhaul of the EU’s migration policies.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis made the proposal at an Athens meeting with European Council President Charles Michel as Greece works to house thousands of asylum-seekers left homeless after fires gutted the squalid, overcrowded Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos.
The government says the fires were set deliberately by migrants protesting a coronavirus lockdown, and authorities on Tuesday announced the arrests of six suspects in the case.
The suspects, all from Afghanistan, include two 17-year-olds who were transferred to mainland refugee camps after the fires. They were being questioned by police, who identified them using videos posted on social media and witness accounts.
Some 12,500 people fled last week’s fires at the Moria camp. Most are still homeless and many are refusing to leave a road where they have camped out for almost a week, fearing they could be detained for months at a new camp the Greek army is building.
“We have already started the new facility, and that is where the flags of Greece and the European Union must fly,″ the Greek prime minister said. ″There must be shared responsibility not only for construction, but also for the operation of the camp.″
Michel, who flew to Lesbos after his talks in Athens, did not comment directly on Mitsotakis’ proposal but said the EU was determined to show greater solidarity toward Greece.
The EU’s executive commission could present its proposals for revising the bloc’s migration policies as early as next week. The plans are expected to include tougher border policing and more uniform asylum procedures across EU member nations.
“We know that it’s a very complex political debate … but we need progress,” Michel said.
Germany said Tuesday it will take in 1,553 asylum-seekers — 408 families with children — from Greece who already have been granted protected status. This would not include asylum-seekers and migrants from Moria.
German Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz said there need to be talks on “an overall European solution ” to migration.
Most of the 5,000 spaces in tents newly erected by the army on Lesbos remain empty, with only 800 migrants having agreed to relocate, officials said Tuesday. Greece’s migration minister said the government will use force, if necessary, to move homeless migrants into the tent city.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said it would take at least six months to build a permanent structure that will replace the Moria camp and it will be at a different location, acknowledging that Moria’s migrants and refugees would spend the winter in tents.
New detention sites for asylum-seekers are also planned on four other Greek islands in the eastern Aegean Sea, replacing overcrowded open facilities.
Late Tuesday, police said a wildfire broke out near a camp with 4,600 asylum-seekers on the eastern island of Samos but it was not immediately threatening the camp. ___ Gatopoulos reported from Athens. Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.