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Greece gears up to better face refugee crisis in 2016 

Athens, Dec 24 (IANS) Ahead of a harsh winter, Greece, with the support of its EU partners, is stepping up efforts to better tackle the refugee crisis in 2016, which has tested Athens and Europe throughout 2015.

Athens has accelerated efforts to construct more screening centres (hot spots) for the accommodation of refugees while they wait to be relocated to other EU countries, reports Xinhua.

The overwhelming majority of refugees and migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and other countries view Greece as a transit point on their way to more affluent European countries.

More than 750,000 refugees and migrants landed on the Greek shores from January 2015 to early December, according to the Greek Coast Guard. About 94,000 have been rescued at sea, while more than 200 have perished in the Aegean.

In the latest EU summit in Brussels on December 18, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reassured that two more hot spots on the Aegean islands with a registration capacity of 2,000 per day will be opened in two months to add to a screening centre already in operation on Lesvos island.

Meanwhile, Greece will cooperate more closely with the newly established EU border and Coast Guard agency to better patrol its borders.

The Greek government has requested EU partners to accelerate the pace of the relocation scheme agreed to in autumn. So far less than 100 refugees have left Greece as part of the programme, while the goal is 66,000 transfers in three years.

The EU ministers adopted the relocation plan in September to relocate 160,000 migrants, as part of a comprehensive approach to deal with the refugee crisis.

Athens has also asked EU partners to check whether Turkey has fulfilled a recent agreement over stemming the migrant flow to re-admit migrants who do not qualify as refugees.

The EU clinched the agreement with Turkey on November 29, offering $3.18 billion in aid and more promising access for Ankara’s membership to the bloc in return for a massive reduction in illegal migrant arrivals.

Economic migrants are not allowed to cross to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and continue their journey to other European countries with refugees.

After border controls were strengthened in the FYROM, increased pressure has been put on Greece. Many economic migrants remain stranded in Greece that has been struggling to house a large number of refugees.

Greece has required EU partners and its neighbour Turkey to live up to their pledges, stressing that the problem cannot be solved in Greece, but on the other side of the Aegean, before the desperate refugees board the plastic dinghies risking their lives to cross to Europe.

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