Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium | Photo: ARCHIVE/EPA/JOHN THYS/POOL
Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium | Photo: ARCHIVE/EPA/JOHN THYS/POOL

Greece has made dismantling migrant trafficking rings a "key national priority", according to statements made by the country's Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi.

In an address to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) at the 113th meeting of the Council of the IOM in Geneva, Mitarachi stressed that Greece will not allow smugglers to decide who enters Greek and European territories.

"It is our national priority to identify and dismantle the networks of traffickers," he said, noting that "it is crucial to maintain the integrity of the asylum system and the Geneva Convention," he said.

Mitarachi pointed out that Greece, while having to manage disproportionate immigration burdens for the country's capabilities, implemented "a strict but fair immigration policy, protecting borders and controlling illegal immigration based on International Law, while also opening avenues for legal immigration," citing the agreements made with nations such as Bangladesh and Egypt.

Athens has been at pains to lean more on the EU in handling the migration issue going forward. Only late last month, Mitarachi urged the EU to urgently intervene and relocate the 500 migrants that Greek authorities rescued at sea in what was the latest high-profile migrant search and rescue operation in the country.

There have been a flurry of such rescues and tragic shipwrecks that have taken place in Greek waters for the last few months.

Greece-Frontex reach new agreement over "irregular" migrants

In related developments in Greece, Mitarachi last week met with Frontex officials and announced that the government has reached a new agreement on cooperation for the voluntary returns of "irregular" migrants.

The ministry and Frontex agreed on a series of activities which are expected to bring better results in the process of returning irregular migrants to their countries of origin, they announced.

A statement on the ministry's website said: "Frontex will provide tools and technical support, at an administrative and operational level, throughout the process followed for voluntary returns. The relevant action plan is expected to be signed in the next few days in Brussels and immediately afterwards a Special Group will be set up to monitor its implementation, in which the European Return Center of Frontex and officials of the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum and the Hellenic Police will participate."

Elaionas camp in Athens shut down

Meanwhile, Mitarachi also announced the closure of the Elaionas refugee camp on Wednesday (November 30). The camp, which had operated since 2015, housed around 1,500 refugees at the peak of its use, but the space, like many others in the Attica region and beyond, is being wound down as the government continues to redistribute asylum populations to other areas of the country, and to other EU member states.

"Those applying for asylum have been cleared without incident and all that is left is to clear the shelters. We are returning the space to the Athenians as we had vowed," he said via a statement shared on social media.


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