Asylum secretary denounces "grotesque statement"

The Belgian Asylum and Migration Secretary Theo Francken has described as “grotesque” the accusations by his Greek counterpart Ioannis Mouzalas that he said that refugees should be "pushed back in the sea".

Mr Mouzalas was speaking to Evan Davis on BBC's Newsnight following a meeting of EU migration ministers in Amsterdam on Monday. Mr Francken took the unusual step of refuting the allegations in an English language email.

Mr Francken's statement

Reaction of the Belgian State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Theo Francken to the statements of his Greek colleague Mister Yiannis Mouzalas.

During the informal JHA council on 25 January 2016 in Amsterdam, the European migration ministers had an open and informal lunch discussion on the current migration crisis and possible ways out of it.

In no way did I call on my Greek colleague to "push back migrants, even if that means drowning them". I deeply regret these grotesque statements. Belgium is a well respected country with high standards in terms of human rights, reception of asylum seekers and international protection. I cannot help but noticing that these accusations come right at a time when Greece is getting ever more isolated within the European debate on migration.

I think we all agree that the vast majority of European citizens are neither willing nor able to accept an equal or even higher number of asylum seekers in 2016, therefore we have to look for solutions and address deficiencies in the current system. I believe the hotspot- and relocation mechanism can be a useful instrument for burden sharing in a correct and humanitarian way. Unfortunately, we all have to agree that this system is at this point not functioning as it should.

The relocation mechanism is intended as a temporary derogation from the Dublin regulation to help those member states, like Greece, who are experiencing a very high migratory pressure. However, this system simply cannot work as long as migrants themselves can choose not to go through the relocation procedure and rather pick their own destination country. While thousands of people arrive in Greece every week, less than 300 actually went through the relocation procedure. All others simply travelled on, without Greece taking any measures to stop these secondary flows and meet its obligations under EU law.

That is why I called for an Europeanisation of the hotspots in Greece. The government in Athens clearly lacks the capacity to manage the situation, so the other EU countries should step in. The hotspots should function as 'Europe's waiting room'. Those being within the scope for relocation (EU recognition rate of +75%) should be swiftly relocated within Europe according to a fair distribution key. Those who have very little chance of receiving international protection should be kept at the hotspots in attendance of their possible return.

But those migrants who do not claim asylum in Greece should be immediately returned or pushed back towards their country of origin or transit, this in full correspondence with EU and international law. To succeed at this task a sharp increase of processing-, detention-, and reception capacity at the hotspots is needed.

Theo Francken