December 15, 2015 / 8:09 PM / 2 years ago

Greece mounts late push to assure EU before migration summit

Refugees and migrants wait to be registered at a site on the Greek island of Lesbos, in this handout photo released by the Greek Prime Minister's Office on December 15, 2015.Greek Prime Minister's Office/Handout via Reuters

ATHENS (Reuters) - In a last-minute drive to assure European Union partners that it is getting to grips with a mass influx of refugees, Greece released aerial photographs on Tuesday of new registration centers for migrants on its northern Aegean islands.

The move is part of Athens' efforts, ahead of an EU summit starting on Thursday, to rebuff criticism by Germany and other EU governments that it has done too little to manage the flow of hundreds of thousands of people arriving on its shores.

The biggest migration crisis in Europe since World War Two has provoked strains and recriminations between EU governments. North European officials complain that for months, Greece did little more than wave new arrivals through the country as quickly as possible, without registering most of them.

"We have been accused of not doing enough, but we have done miracles given the number of refugees arriving on our islands and given that it is winter," a government official said.

Video footage and pictures gave a bird's eye view of the so-called "hotspot" and temporary shelters on the island of Lesbos. On the island of Chios, a row of prefabricated homes for migrants has been set up outside an abandoned factory.

On the island of Leros, another entry point into Europe from Turkey, dozens more prefabricated homes have been erected outside a former psychiatric hospital.

Greece's five EU-assisted hotspots on Lesbos, Chios, Leros, Kos and Samos, due to be operational this month, will also provide temporary shelter to 7,500 people.

So far, only Lesbos is operational, mainly due to lack of funds and know-how, government officials said. But Athens wants to speed up construction.

TSIPRAS VISIT

Just before heading to Brussels for the summit, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will visit Chios and Leros to inspect construction work at the centers.

On Thursday, EU leaders are expected to take stock of the progress made by debt-laden Greece, which is a main gateway into the EU and has received more than 800,000 migrants - mainly Syrians and Afghans - this year.

Athens this week launched a subsidized rental scheme, backed by the EU and the U.N. refugee agency, to provide accommodation to 20,000 asylum seekers and people waiting to be relocated. It aims to boost capacity to more than 30,000 places by next month.

The EU's executive Commission said on Tuesday, in a progress report, that there was "still work to be done" by Greece. It separately proposed to nearly treble spending on protection of the bloc's external frontiers, to be provided by a new European Border and Coast Guard.

Pressure for more stringent controls has increased since Islamic State militants killed 130 people in Paris last month. Two of the attackers are suspected to have traveled across the continent via Turkey and Greece under cover of the refugee flow.

The crisis has sown deep suspicion between Athens and its European partners, and even drawn threats to suspend Greece from the open-border Schengen zone.

The Greeks feel they have borne the brunt of arrivals with scant EU financial or practical support. They say they have received only one-tenth of the staff and vessels requested and far fewer fingerprint data systems than had been promised.

Government officials say Athens has received only 30 million euros in EU funds, mainly "due to bureaucracy".

Additional reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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