Alexis Tsipras issues strongly worded condemnation of EU failure to prevent refugee deaths, at end of week in which at least 50 people drowned in Aegean
Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, said the deaths of refugees on the shores of the holiday islands of the Aegean have made him ashamed to be part of the European Union.
In a powerful speech coming at the end of the one of the worst weeks for deaths in the Aegean, the Greek leader said Western countries that took part in military interventions in countries like Iraq and Syria bore much of the responsibility for the mass exodus of refugees from the Middle East.
At least 50 people drowned attempting to cross the sea between Turkey and Greece this week, including many children.
On Friday alone, 31 people including at least 17 children drowned in two incidents, one near the island of Kalymnos, the other near Rhodes.
On the tiny island of Agathonissi, the body of a little boy who had been missing from another sinking on Wednesday was found by a fisherman.
“I want to express … my endless grief at the dozens of deaths and the human tragedy playing out in our seas,» Mr Tsipras told parliament.
«The waves of the Aegean are not just washing up dead refugees, dead children, but (also) the very civilisation of Europe.»
There were yet more drowning as the prime minister spoke — four young children died and two more were missing on Friday after boats carrying refugees capsized off the Turkish coast.
The first boat went down near the town of Canakkale, close to Gallipoli, where Allied troops landed in 1915.
Around 19 refugees were rescued but the children, aged between one and four, drowned.
The second boat sank en route to the island of Samos. The coast guard rescued 29 people but two babies were missing.
So far this year more than half a million refugees, many of them Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, have crossed by boat from Turkey’s coast to Aegean islands like Lesbos, Samos and Chios.
Mr Tsipras accused countries of blaming each other over the refugee crisis – the worst on the continent since the end of the Second World War.
«I feel shamed as a member of this European leadership, both for the inability of Europe in dealing with this human drama, and for the level of debate at a senior level, where one is passing the buck to the other,» he told parliament.
«These are hypocritical, crocodile tears which are being shed for the dead children on the shores of the Aegean. Dead children always incite sorrow, but what about the children that are alive who come in thousands and are stacked on the streets?»
His Leftist government has argued that refugees should be registered in camps in Turkey from which they could be directly resettled under the EU’s relocation program, sparing them the dangerous sea crossing.
But while the prime minister railed at the rest of the EU, humanitarian organisations have accused his government of a chaotic, deeply inadequate response to the refugee crisis.
Refugees who reach the Aegean islands by boat are essentially left to fend for themselves.
On the island of Samos, which has received tens of thousands of arrivals, rubber dinghies packed with Syrians and other nationalities come ashore on beaches and in isolated bays.
Sometimes local people hand out biscuits, but there is no sign of the Greek army, police or any international aid agencies at the landing spots.
The refugees, often traumatised, soaking wet and with children and babies in tow, then have to walk many miles to the main town on the island.
The better-off are able to pay for taxis which converge on the landing sites, touting for business.
But many others have to trudge along country roads, dragging toddlers and with babies in slings.
They then stay in makeshift, dirty camps while they wait for permits from the Greek authorities which allow them to board ferries to Athens, from where they will travel through the Balkans towards Western Europe.
Fights break out over the very limited food and water provided by the Greek authorities.
In the main camp on the island of Samos, no food is provided at all.
The inhumane treatment of the migrants and refugees has been criticised by charities.
Medecins Sans Frontieres said the Greek authorities had failed to improve conditions on Lesbos, which receives the bulk of arrivals, “despite months of calls”.
The conditions “failed to meet minimum EU standards”, the humanitarian organisation said.
«For months we have been denouncing the lack of response and political will of Greek authorities to cope with the needs of thousands of migrants and refugees who risk their lives every day to arrive in the Greek islands,” said MSF’s Aurelie Ponthieu.