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Intervention by the Permanent Representative of Greece, Ambassador Alexis Alexandris at the side-event of the 66th Executive Committee of the UNHCR on the refugee crisis in Europe

Friday, 09 October 2015

Intervention by the Permanent Representative of Greece, Ambassador Alexis Alexandris at the side-event of the 66th Executive Committee of the UNHCR on the refugee crisis in Europe in the presence of the High Commissioner for Refugees Mr Antonio Guterres, the First Vice President of the European Commission Mr Timmermans and the Director General of the IOM Mr Swing (Geneva, 5.10.2015)

"Your Excellency Mr High Commissioner, Mr Director General, Mr Vice President of the Commission,

First of all allow me to warmly welcome this very timely debate. As you all know, our country has been in the frontline of unprecedented migratory and refugee  inflows, which have, since the beginning of this year, exceeded 350,000 persons and come in pair with the continuing financial constraints our country is facing. In this crucial context the Greek coast guard has been sparing no effort to save thousands of human lives at sea.For example, the Greek Coast Guard has saved 57,188 lives in search and rescue operations in 1527 incidents between January and September 2015.

Last week in New York the Greek Prime Minister praised the work of the High Commissioner for Refugees as well as his constant advocacy for the set up and the expansion of a robust resettlement mechanism from third countries. The UNHCR's valuable expertise in this field can help deal a blow to the human trafficking and smuggling networks and facilitate controlled flows to Europe by providing thousands of people with this durable solution. Greece considers the protection of the refugees to be a fundamental element of the European system of values and principles.

In this context, we are very happy for the presence of Mr Timmermans today. It is evident that without the European Commission's boldness and determination, we would not have proceeded to the recent important EU council decisions on persons in need of international protection. Greece is trying to do its best in order to fulfill its obligations in cooperation with the European Commission and the help of UNHCR, IOM and other international organizations. The maximum of resources is currently being mobilized in order to improve our reception and registration infrastructures, as well as in order to set up an EU hot spot in the port of Piraeus as soon as possible. Just three days ago the government decided the emergency opening of the stadiums and other infrastructure created for the Olympic Games of Athens in 2004, in order to house the growing numbers of refugees.

By the same token, when dealing with the migratory and refugee crisis we should never lose sight of the fact that we need to strike the proper balance between security and respect for human rights as Mr Guterres and Mr Swing have so often said. A holistic approach including support to legal migration can provide hope to thousands of people and help reduce tragic loss of life of those seeking hope for a better future instead of limiting ourselves to the unviable creation of refugee camps in the frontline states.

Your Excellencies, undeniably, the response of the international community to the refugee crisis will be the measure of success or failure. In order to avoid further loss of life we are in dire need of swift action to tackle the root causes in cooperation with countries of origin and transit, and we also need durable solutions , geared towards development and based on a spirit of humanity, effectiveness and solidarity."

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