ATHENS (Reuters) - Migrant flows to Greece have decreased markedly in recent months, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Wednesday, defending his government’s support of a deal between the European Union and Turkey to tackle the migrant crisis.
Turkey and the EU last month sealed an accord which aims to end the chaotic arrival of migrants and refugees, most fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, after more than a million reached Europe last year.
Hundreds have died making the short but precarious crossing from Turkey to the shores of Greek islands in inflatable dinghies. The island of Lesbos is full of unmarked graves.
“A few months ago we had flows of 3,000 to 4,000 daily to our islands ... Today, the flows are about 50 to 60 (migrants and refugees) daily,” Tsipras told parliament during a debate on security.
Greece’s Defence Minister Panos Kammenos met his German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen in Athens a day earlier and said that NATO’s naval back-up in the Aegean Sea to help stop people smugglers had also contributed to the reduced flows.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is expected to visit Athens later this week, according to government officials.
Von Der Leyen urged migrants stranded at a makeshift camp on Greece’s northern border with Macedonia to move to official shelters.
Athens has set up accommodation for more than 50,000 people, she said, calling the move “a clear message for refugees that there are now well-equipped camps in which the reception is possible according to all standards.”
Human rights groups have accused Greece of bad conditions in reception centers. They say the EU-Turkey deal, aimed at halting migration to Europe in return for financial and political rewards for Ankara, violates international conventions.
Last week Pope Francis visited a camp at the island of Lesbos where migrants wept at his feet, kissed his hand and begged for help. He took three families of Syrian refugees back home.
Reporting by George Georgiopoulos, Angeliki Koutantou and Sabine Siebold; Writing by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky