Migration Minister Mouzalas: Europe must ‘stop its hypocrisy’ over the refugees

Europe must “stop its hypocrisy” concerning refugees and the conditions they face at the camps in Greece, which were entirely the result of overcrowding and excessive migrant flows that were beyond the Greek state’s control, Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas noted in statements to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) from the Moria hotspot on Lesvos.

The minister was speaking on Christmas Day, reacting to reports in the European mass media, after spending the day at the camp talking with staff and helping to coordinate the effort to improve conditions at the hotspot. As an example, he cited the problem Greece faces with unaccompanied refugee children.

“Let me tell you about the unaccompanied children. Here in Moria we have a problem with unaccompanied underage refugees. We are asking Europe to take some of these children. It won’t take them. It is easy to play the part of accuser. To deal with the situation for the benefit of the refugees and migrants and not clash with the interests of local communities is the hard part,” Mouzalas said.

This was the task that Greek authorities faced, he noted, and it was pointless to wag fingers. Instead, efforts should be focused on getting the procedures in motion and finding mechanisms for improving the situation and solving problems. Those rushing to accuse were overlooking the constant efforts made and “preferred easy tears over a bad situation rather than highlighting the huge effort underway to improve it,” Mouzalas said.

“In Moria there was a period when we were teetering on the cusp of [violating] human rights. Today we are making an immense effort for improvement. The current situation is still far from what we would like, of course, but we believe that we will make it,” Mouzalas said, expressing his conviction that some semblance of normality will have returned to Moria by the end of January.

He also clarified, however, that everything depends on the number of people arriving. “Today, on Christmas Day, we had good weather and the arrival of 175 people on Lesvos,” he pointed out.

Greece will continue to transfer those that are vulnerable to the mainland, in accordance with the EU-Turkey agreement, the minister said, while he referred to an ongoing effort to improve facilities at the hotspot.

Commenting on reactions to the installation of new huts at the camp by islanders, Mouzalas clarified that the huts replaced tents and had not brought new people to the island. “We are not talking about expanding the camp but improving living conditions,” he said, warning that a collapse of the EU-Turkey deal would mean a return to the situation in 2015, with some 7,000 arrivals each day.

Regarding the recent visit by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Greece and Mouzalas’ own visit to Turkey, the minister said that he expected improvements to result with regard to the refugee issue but noted that this will take time. His own visit had been a chance to organise things on a technical level and find ways to reduce overcrowding at the camps without violating the EU-Turkey agreement, he said.