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Turkey Contributes To Migrants Overwhelming Greece, Ambassador Says


More than 62,000 migrants have already arrived in Greece in the first month of this year. Last year, 850,000 came through. Greece is under pressure by the EU now to do more to stop that flow of migrants and better track those who arrive. I put that to Greece's ambassador to the U.S., Christos Panagopoulos, when he came to our studio.

CHRISTOS PANAGOPOULOS: I have to tell you that, almost exclusively, all these huge amount of desperate people, they are coming through Turkey in order to be pushed to the Greek shores.

MONTAGNE: So you're blaming Turkey.

PANAGOPOULOS: I'm not blaming anyone, but it's obvious that all these hundreds of thousands of people, they don't come from the Mars from the outer space. But in a country like Turkey, it's impossible that the government does not know anything about this. What I can say is that we have to work with them in order to solve this problem.

MONTAGNE: Well, the EU has pledged different amounts of money as well. Last month, I gather it pledged 80 million euros for migrant housing. Has that money been forthcoming? If it has been, where's it gone?

PANAGOPOULOS: Very little money that have been allocated in our life today, according to a rough estimate, we spent from the beginning of this terrible crisis, starting from the Syrian refugee flow, for instance. A year and a few months ago, we spent close to 2.5 billion altogether to accommodate all these people. You know, the European Union pledged some money, but they are very slow. They are very easy to criticize and put the blame elsewhere but very, very slow in giving real assistance.

MONTAGNE: Right. So Greece is a pass-through country. Our reporter in Greece says that, for instance, when she's gone out to report on the refugees coming in, the migrants coming in, that there aren't enough facilities to screen and fingerprint migrants, that there are not that many translators who speak Arabic. How has it come to that almost, well, over a year since this all began?

PANAGOPOULOS: I can assure you that everybody that arrives at our shores is identified. So we are doing a huge, I mean, huge task there. Right now I can assure you everybody that shows up is identified properly.

MONTAGNE: What do you see happening in the near future? And we're in the middle of winter, and these migrants and refugees are still coming. What do you see in the months ahead?

PANAGOPOULOS: It's a tragedy, a shame of Europe, and that's exactly the words of my prime minister talking to the recent summit with our European partners. Everybody was agreeing, but very little has been done to meet the problem. Some of them, they told us, we have a very strong Navy. OK, we do. But how many they know that it is absolutely illegal and unethical to declare a war against these people? What do they expect us, to sink the boats? We would never do that. Nobody can agree on this. So unless we face with the roots of the problem, there is no way out of this because there is desperation there. And no matter what, even if you build walls or whatever they have in mind, it's not going to stop them.

MONTAGNE: Ambassador, thank you very much for joining us.

PANAGOPOULOS: Thanks for having me.

MONTAGNE: Christos Panagopoulos is the ambassador to the United States from Greece. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.