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Refugee camps a solution?

Bernd Riegert / glbSeptember 26, 2015

They are meant to be the solution Europe is looking for to ease the migration crisis. But when it comes to organizing and setting up new refugee centers, EU politicians are watching their step.

Migrants arriving at Palermo
Image: picture alliance/ZUMA Press/A. Melita

German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced at this week's special summit in Brussels that asylum accommodation facilities would be erected - before the end of November - in Greece, Italy and perhaps Bulgaria. She called these camps "hotspots," and her idea received at least initial support from her European colleagues.

When it comes to how these facilities will operate and who will set them up, however, the positions are diverse.

French President Francois Hollande has spoken of centers from which deportations can be conducted. According to Italy's prime minister, Matteo Renzi, these hotspots will be simple refugee camps under the flag of the European Union, operated by EU teams.

The only thing that's certain about these facilities is that they are to provide accommodation throughout the bloc to some 160,000 refugees. That's according to an agreement reached by the EU's interior ministers, which incidentally was contested - unsuccessfully - by four eastern EU member states.

Questions abound

"Hotspots aren't physical places, they are a concept," said an informed EU worker who wanted to remain anonymous, when asked by DW as to what exact shape the facilities will take.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU's migration commissioner, has contended that hotspots already exist - at Catania in Sicily, and at the Greek port of Piraeus.

"In Catania, there's an office with 10 desks where representatives of the EU agencies for border control, asylum policy and policing exchange information with Italian agencies," explained the EU worker. "That's it."

Bapska, Croatia camp (Photo: Michele Amoruso/Pacific Press/ABACAPRESS.COM)
Countries like Croatia have been overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of Middle Eastern migrantsImage: picture-alliance/ABACAPRESS/M. Amoruso

The actual function of the hotspots, which are four-man teams, is to assist Italian agencies with the registration of refugees and the search for traffickers. At this point, another hotspot team is active on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Until now, there's been no talk of these hotspots taking responsibility for the accommodation, distribution and possible deportation of thousands of refugees.

"This would turn Italy into a kind of prison camp," said a high-ranking Italian EU official. What's more, these people would be trapped, as most of them are trying to get further north.

Fantasy in Greece

According to the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), negotiations are underway for the erection of a hotspot in Piraeus, but no concrete information is available at the moment as to who will be responsible for which tasks.

The plan at this point is for teams to be deployed from Piraeus to the Greek islands, where up to 3,000 migrants are arriving daily. At the moment, only around 10 percent of these refugees are registered upon arriving at the islands. The question remains unresolved whether camps will be erected to house these new arrivals.

One thing is for certain, according to the EU insider DW consulted: There is no way that accommodation centers of the kind Merkel described will be built by the end of November.

Precarious foundation?

For months, the EU has talked about these hotspots as if they were a cornerstone for how Brussels will ultimately overcome the crisis. But it remains completely unclear how resources are to be allocated.

On top of that, Commissioner Avramopoulos appears to be incapable of providing the services that the hotspots are meant to offer. In recent comments in Brussels, Avramopoulos admitted that he had "no idea" who came up with the idea to call these proposed facilities "hotspots," adding that he would no longer use the term because it led to misunderstandings.