ATHENS – With waves of immigrants overrunning his country and trying to sneak into the European Union any way they can, the new European Commission for Migrant, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said the answer isn’t to seal the borders.
“The so-called Fortress Europe is not an option,” said Avramopoulos, who left his post at the Defense Ministry to go to Brussels. “It is a danger for the rights of European citizens,” he said in an interview with the newspaper Kathimerini.
He didn’t explain why he relented while serving in the coalition government led by Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative chief Antonis Samaras to the building of a wall along Greece’s border with Turkey to keep out illegal immigrants, who turned instead to trying to reach Greece by sea, with many of them drowning after rickety craft capsized.
Avramopoulos said the answer is to stop the human traffickers bringing people into the EU, primarily through Greece and Italy. He didn’t say what he would do about the EU’s policy of cutting back funding and aid from its border patrol, Frontex, despite previous criticism from the Greek government that more help was needed.
Other areas on which he will be focusing, he said, are providing more assistance to the EU countries that are migrants’ first port of call and developing a more comprehensive immigration policy. He didn’t say what it would be.
“What we must do above all is make inactive all those who invest in illegal immigration,” he said. “We can only do that if we create and implement for the first time a complete immigration policy that pushes those looking for security and progress in Europe toward legal migration.”
Avramopoulos also suggested that countries such as Greece which are key gateways for irregular migrants looking to reach the EU’s most prosperous countries could expect to receive more assistance under his watch even though Greece has beebn blistered by human rights agencies for poor treatment of migrants.
When he was campaigning two years ago, Samaras also made ridding Greece of illegal immigrants a cornerstone of his agenda and the Greek government has for the last couple of years been rounding them up and putting them in detention camps until they can be deported. Greece also has the worst record for granting asylum in the EU.
“The realization by all that Europe’s borders are common and that a show of greater solidarity toward the countries that feel the biggest pressure is the only realistic choice we have in Europe,” he said.
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