ATHENS: The European Union’s migration commissioner has welcomed the departure of first refugees from Greece under an EU relocation scheme aimed at easing the burden on countries bearing the brunt of Europe’s migrant crisis, but warned that the bloc is going to get tough on migrants who are simply seeking a better life rather than fleeing conflict.
Dimitris Avramopoulos said on Wednesday that he was set to visit Pakistan soon to discuss plans to send back Pakistani migrants who had made their way to Europe.
Mr Avramopoulos was at the airport here to see off the 30 Syrians and Iraqis heading to Luxembourg to start new lives.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn were also there to greet the six families who were to fly out from the airport under the plan meant to share out nearly 160,000 migrants across the bloc.
The families appeared very happy to be leaving, smiling widely as they stood on the tarmac at the airport.
Mr Tsipras said the families, who were chosen because they were considered vulnerable, were making “a trip to hope”, but warned that they were merely “a drop in the ocean” compared to the hundreds of thousands who had arrived on European shores this year.
“Today they have the opportunity to make a trip to hope, to a better life,” he said. “It’s a drop in the ocean, but we hope the drop will become a stream and then a river of humanity.”
At least 80 migrants, including many children, have died in the last week while trying to sail from Turkey to Lesbos and other Greek islands in rough weather.
On Tuesday, four more migrants, including two children, drowned after their boat got into difficulty off Lesbos.
“The human sacrifice that shames European civilisation must stop,” Mr Tsipras said.
He added that the registration and relocation process should begin in Turkey, from where some 200,000 migrants set sail for Greece in October alone, according to the UN refugee agency.
“Greece is not the gateway; Turkey is the gateway,” the Greek prime minister said.
A Greek asylum service official said the group leaving Athens on Wednesday comprised two Iraqi and four Syrian families, with a total of 16 children. One of the women is pregnant and two of the children are disabled.
Upon arrival in Luxembourg, the families will spend two days in a registration centre and then two or three months in homes.
The welfare service will then help them to find permanent accommodation, schools and jobs.
A total of 87 Eritreans and Syrians left Italy under the relocation scheme last month, bound for Sweden and Finland.
Published in Dawn, November 5th, 2015