Greece will not become Europe's "warehouse" for illegal migrants, Citizens' Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis stressed Wednesday on the island of Corfu, where a regular meeting of the Council of Europe's (CoE) parliamentary assembly (PACE) Committee on migration, refugees and population is taking place.
"Only those migrants who have the right to international protection or right to asylum, and those who have legal work and residency permits, will remain in Greece. No one else," Papoutsis said during the first day of the two-day meeting.
"All others should receive the clear message: they will leave Greece, either through voluntary repatriation or obligatory expulsion. We are absolutely determined in that direction," Papoutsis warned, and called on the EU to back its member states situated on the EU's external borders, instead of "punishing them".
"Greece supports every proposal that reinforces the Schengen agreement, and at the same time rejects every thought that overturns the acquis communautaire. The Schengen acquis provides for enhancement of the controls at the EU's external borders, and consequently that is where the focus must be placed for dealing with possible deficiencies, and not 'punishment' of the member states that are on the (EU's) external borders," the minister stressed.
He reiterated Greece's firm position for amendment of the Dublin II Regulation and endorsed the creation of a binding system of a proportional distribution or refugees or vulnerable groups based on specific criteria such as financial ability and population.
On the migration waves from the countries of Northern Africa, due to the current developments, he outlined policies for progress, peace and prosperity in the Mediterranean.
"The Greek government is discussing with particular interest the European Commission's proposal for a spherical approach to migration as a particularly useful tool in the EU's relations with third countries. And, indeed, we can go ahead with a revision of the geographical priorities following the change in the landscape in N. Africa," he said.
Papoutsis said Greece warmly supports substantive dialogue with the countries of the southern Mediterranean, while he also said the time has come to bring to the forefront a European policy for the development of the entire Mediterranean.
The PACE Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population and its Sub-committee on Migration will wind up discussions on Thursday.
Later in the afternoon, Papoutsis and local authorities in the northwest port city of Igoumenitsa held a two-hour meeting on Wednesday, focusing on the problems in the area as a result of the scores of illegal migrants that have gathered in the region in a bid to board Italy-bound ferryboats.
Papoutsis pledged that all necessary measures will be taken to solve the problem, adding that the government is considering building an illegal migrant reception centre in an area that will have the approval of local residents and authorities.