At their working meeting Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz discussed current developments in the Western Balkans and a European solution to the current migration crisis.
On 11 May, Nikos Kotzias paid his first bilateral visit to Austria. In the past there were some differences in terms of approaches and views on the resolution of the migration crisis. At today’s meeting in Vienna these misunderstandings were successfully removed. “Foreign Minister Kurz and I openly discussed the current challenges. We made our points clear. It is important that we join forces and make sure that refugees get help and also accept such help on the ground”, Kotzias stressed.
The objective is a common European solution
Sebastian Kurz underlined: “At the onset of the refugee wave Austria already warned of exceeding capacities. As a community we focused for too long on the mere distribution of refugees. Last year, Austria took in 90,000 refugees, which is the second highest number per capita in the EU. This is why Austria had to become active by closing the Western Balkans route. The number of illegal migrants who come to the EU has declined substantially since the closing of the Western Balkans route and the signing of the EU-Turkey agreement. It is, however, also important to invest strongly in direct help and assistance on the ground and to use resettlement programmes to transfer people who need help directly from the region to Europe – a view which we both share.” The year 2015 was particularly marked by the strong flow of refugees. Currently, the situation has somewhat eased. Nevertheless, it is important to be prepared: “We need to develop a long-term European strategy and avoid dependencies for instance on Turkey. This is what we as the EU are jointly working towards. We all support a common European solution”, Foreign Minister Kurz stressed. Greece has already created accommodation for more than 45,000 refugees in order to meet their needs directly on the ground. Yet, the situation at the Idomeni border crossing remains difficult: “The majority of NGOs on site do an extraordinary job. We are most grateful to them. However, there are also other organisations on site which are distributing misleading information. They tell people that the Western Balkans route will soon be reopened and tell them to hold out. Refugees are made false promises. This is why much of the accommodation we have built is still empty”, Kotzias explained.
Greece-Austria: Joint promotion of interreligious dialogue
Other topics discussed at the meeting apart from the refugee crisis included, for instance, promoting interreligious exchange. With some 35,000 members, the Greek-Orthodox Church in Austria is a growing religious community. In this context, Foreign Minister Kurz stated: “Austria and Greece are linked by a rich history. Cooperation is particularly close at the cultural level. Interreligious dialogue is thus a common concern shared by us all.”
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