Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said the Mitsotakis government plans to return a total of 10,000 migrants within 2020.
Petsas made the claim during a radio interview with Real FM following ministerial meetings with mayors and the regional director of North Aegean islands who were in Athens to protest the migrant situation on their islands.
“We have recently moved 9,000 individuals from the islands to the mainland,” Petsas told the radio station, “and early in 2020 we are committed to moving another 11,000.”
Petsas spoke of “building a relationship of trust on the points we agree on in the coming time so that local communities do not see the central government with distrust.”
The meetings in Athens with the ministers of State and Migration & Asylum followed on the heels of protests on Lesvos, Samos, and Chios on Wednesday calling for a resolution of the overcrowding on the islands and their services.
The spokesman said there was a commitment to present a weekly report to the regional director and mayors from the Migration & Asylum Ministry detailing the number of asylum applications reviewed, those rejected, and of the latter those individuals in the process of being returned to Turkey.
Despite some disagreements with island officials, he said, the government believes that the construction of controlled hotspots will alleviate a large part of the issue as these facilities will offer humane living conditions “and all those services that create problems in the daily lives of islanders, such as medical services.” He added that hospitals are overwhelmed by the numbers of migrants and cannot serve local residents, and ultimately migrants too.
Petsas also said that island residents wanted the immediate return of those who did not qualify for asylum, but the government needed more time. “We believe we need a longer time period, such as a month, in order for the Migration & Asylum Ministry to say definitely that someone does not qualify for international protection; then the Greek police need to contact Turkey and, through Frontex, open the channel of return to Turkey,” he said.
He also said that the government would approve the first disbursement of funds to cover urgent needs on the islands, and would work on the other issues the mayors requested, from health to educational support.