The European Union was failing to grasp that the refugee issue is a European problem, the head of the the European Stability Initiative (ESI) - a think-tank credited with designing the EU-Turkey deal of March 20 - said in a press conference held in Athens on Wednesday. In scathing criticism of the EU's stance, ESI founding chairman Gerald Knaus accused Europe of "hiding behind Greece" and "playing Russian roulette" with Greece as the potential victim.
Knaus, who was in Athens as the guest of the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation and the Netherlands Embassy, defended the March 20 deal with Turkey as the "best that could be done" to defend human rights.
"People aren't drowning, they don't have to pay traffickers, they are not trapped in Greece for years," he pointed out. He criticised Greek delays in examining asylum applications, however, and the lack of any management mechanism, as well as the EU's failure to implement the resettlement system and take responsibility for implementing the agreement with Turkey.
"This is an extremely dangerous moment when all that's been achieved can fail. And if the agreement fails, things will be much worse than they were the previous year," he said. He pointed out that the services for examining asylum applications on the Greek islands were very understaffed, even with the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) reinforcements, and that the number of interviews conducted each day was woefully inadequate when compared with the thousands of asylum seekers.
"If this is a mission that must succeed, then we are playing Russian roulette and taking risks. Turkey has agreed to take back all the migrants whose applications are rejected by Greece yet no case has reached conclusion in the last two months, he added.