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Greece prepares refugee 'hotspots' amid growing EU pressure

Four of Greece's five new migrant registration centers are "ready to function and welcome refugees," the Greek defense minister has said. Pressure on Greece to control the massive influx of migrants to Europe is growing.

Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos told reporters in Athens on Tuesday that the four long-delayed "hotspot" centers will open on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Leros and Samos - all of which have been struggling to cope with a relentless flow of migrants landing from Turkey.

Despite strong opposition from the local mayor and residents over the impact on the tourism industry, a fifth center on the island of Kos, will be ready "in five days" Kammenos said.

The "hotspots" are an attempted remedy to just one of 60 "deficiencies" cited by the European Commission last Friday regarding the way in which Greece has dealt with refugees who transit through the country en route to the European Union's (EU) wealthier nations.

The Commission granted Athens three months to correct the flaws, with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipris promising to have the five registration centers ready before an EU summit due to be held on Thursday and Friday, this week.

Separation of refugees and economic migrants

European leaders have said the "hot spots" are key to securing the EU's external borders. The idea behind the centers is not only for refugees to be reliably registered and their fingerprints recorded in the EU-wide Eurodac system, but also for so-called economic migrants from countries such as Pakistan, Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa to be separated immediately from the refugees whose asylum claims are deemed to be legitimate - for example people fleeing the Syria conflict.

For this to happen, however, people would have to be fenced into camps and held against their will. Thus far hardly any European government has publicly declared itself amenable to this idea.

Infografik showing route of migrants transiting through Greece

Protests on Kos

Kammenos' announcement on Tuesday came just days after police responded to protests on the Greek island of Kos with tear gas. Demonstrations were held by anti-"hotspot" protesters amid fears over the future of the island's tourism industry.

"We'd like them just to stay a few hours with us, get their papers and then be taken straight on to the mainland," local hotel owner Antonis Chatzimichalis told DW.

"Kos is one of the most important tourist destinations in Greece. If we have a hot spot here, it'll be a disaster," he added.

Athens saw some 850,000 migrants, all fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere, transit through Greece last year during their journey to northern Europe.

ksb/rc (Reuters, AFP)

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