January 31, 2016 / 6:03 PM / 2 years ago

Greece pledges to speed up delivery of migrant 'hotspot' centers

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece will speed up completion of five migrant registration centers and two relocation camps after the EU executive chided it for neglecting its duties to Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone, the prime minister’s office said on Sunday.

Refugees and migrants walk after disembarking from the passenger ferry Blue Star1 at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece, January 31, 2016. REUTERS/Michalis Karagiannis

European Union interior ministers urged Athens last week to do more to control the influx of migrants, some threatening exclusion from the Schengen zone as the crisis increasingly divides bloc members.

Greece was the main gateway to Europe for more than a million refugees and migrants who reached the EU last year. It has been criticized for a failure to control the flow of arrivals, which has shown little sign of easing over the winter.

After a ministerial meeting chaired by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Saturday, his office said the completion of “hot spot” registration centers for refugees and migrants on the islands of Samos, Lesvos, Chios, Kos and Leros near the Turkish coast, would gain pace.

The government will also complete two relocation camps on the mainland, with the defense ministry taking a more active role to ensure that the five hotspots will be ready to operate in the next two weeks.

The EU has taken various steps to give cash-strapped Athens financial assistance to deal with the crisis, but many member states believe it is not using that enough. Of five registration centers due to be set up for migrants arriving in Greece, only one is running so far.

As per the ministerial decision, Greece’s defense ministry will hand over two military camps to ensure that the two relocation centers, each with a capacity to house up to 4,000 migrants, will be delivered on time.

The public order ministry will make sure all of the five hotspots will be staffed and capable to register refugees and migrants.

Ministers at the meeting shared the assessment that Greece’s commitments will be implemented by the next summit of European leaders.

“Let’s hope that the other EU countries and institutions will show the same sense of responsibility by then,” the prime minister’s office said.

Greece’s migration minister Yannis Mouzalas has denounced the threat of Schengen exclusion as a “blame game”.

Reporting by George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Stephen Powell

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