I am in Greece for a couple of days, it is my fifth visit here as Commissioner. The rain is pouring down, and the situation here is still very troubling. Many Greeks are facing a difficult time, but there are also some small bright spots on the horizon. Tourism is expected to reach record levels this summer, and the Eurogroup has cautiously pointed towards signs of progress.
I am of course here to discuss the situation for refugees and migrants. There has been some progress since I was here last time. While the worst of the detention centres have now been closed, the conditions are still unacceptable for those who are kept in detention. Greece needs to do more in this area to fulfil European rules and international standards, and needs to build several open reception centres.
On a more positive note: an asylum centre will finally open in Athens, as well as on a few of the islands. Processing of asylum applications have so far been managed by the police authorities, which of course is unacceptable. This new centre has educated staff that will register applications, conduct interviews and handle appeals.
I had long discussions with Minister Nikos Dendias on the remaining issues in the Action Plan on Migration that the government has adopted. It is of course the responsibility of Greece itself to put a system in place, but the Commission, our Agencies, the Member States and a large number of NGOs are here to help. Greece is still having difficulties in fully using the funds available, and there is a need for better coordination between ministries.
I met with Prime Minister Samaras, who is deeply engaged in these migration issues. I visited the new asylum centre, met with UNHCR, and also visited the police unit that up until now has been responsible for asylum applications, which is now being phased out.
An important issue that we discussed is the racist violence which unfortunately is very much apparent in a country where a party such as Golden Dawn is on the rise, and where the financial crisis is creating a breeding ground for simplistic solutions and scape goats in politics. A proposal for a law that will criminalise agitation against ethnic groups, as well as making racist violence a serious offence, is now being prepared.