Greece to give migrants IDs, cash: Minister

A child looks on at the Ritsona refugee camp, north of Athens, on Dec 21, 2016.
A child looks on at the Ritsona refugee camp, north of Athens, on Dec 21, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

ATHENS (AFP) - Greece wants to give electronic ID cards and cash to thousands of refugees and migrants trapped on its soil, the migration minister said Wednesday (Dec 28).

"(By April) we intend to register all refugees and migrants in Greece... in camps, hotels and flats, and give them electronic identity cards," Yiannis Mouzalas told a news conference.

"This will show their legal status, and where they are" in the country, he said.

Mouzalas added that, by March, the government plans to give cash handouts of up to 400 euros (S$603) a month to enable migrant families to fend for themselves.

"We want to improve their living standards and give them a measure of autonomy," the minister said.

Greece says it has over 60,000 mainly Syrian refugees and migrants trapped on its soil, after Balkan and EU countries further north shut their borders last year.

Most are lodged in 34 camps around the country, run with the help of EU funds and support from the UN refugee agency, the Red Cross and other organisations.

Mouzalas did not clarify how austerity-wracked Greece intended to fund the handout scheme, but Athens has generally relied on the EU for such financing.

The European Commission on Dec 8 recommended that member states resume sending asylum seekers back to Greece from March next year, after transfers were halted for five years because of poor conditions there.

Brussels said it was a key step towards restoring the European Union's migration policies and the passport-free Schengen zone, which nearly collapsed under the pressure of the 2015 migrant crisis.

Mouzalas said the measure "repeated old mistakes" in that it placed an excessive burden on entry states such as Greece.

"It's balanced, but it's not what we wanted," the minister said, adding that Athens would work with Italy, Bulgaria and Malta to monitor how the measure is implemented.

Greece and Italy have been the first point of entry for the vast majority of the migrants who have entered the bloc since 2015.

There has been heavy opposition from some EU member states to a scheme to relocate 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy around the bloc.

The relocations have moved at a snail's pace with only 8,162 having moved so far.

Meanwhile Mouzalas urged the EU to adopt a system to return failed asylum seekers to their home countries.

"It's a scandal... We need a European returns mechanism," he said. "Belgium can return (migrants) to Morocco, while (Greece) cannot. The UK can return (migrants) to Pakistan, we cannot."