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EU migration chief warns of risks to refugee relocation

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(ATHENS) - The European Union's top migration official on Friday warned that a compromise deal to share out refugees in the bloc could flounder if the migrants themselves refuse to cooperate.

"The message for everybody is to follow the rules," European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a news conference held with Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

Many refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea are currently failing to lodge asylum requests upon arriving in Greece because they fear they will be trapped in the recession-hit country.

However, this is a necessary requirement to entitle them for relocation under the EU scheme to share out 160,000 refugees within the bloc.

If this rule is not obeyed "the entire system will collapse", Asselborn said.

Avramopoulos and Asselborn had earlier visited registration facilities on Lesbos, the Greek island on the front line of the migrant influx that has overwhelmed Europe this year.

Greece also plans to open registration hotspots on the islands of Samos, Leros, Kos and Chios, supervised by a command centre at the main port of Piraeus near Athens.

The EU's aim is to have the centres ready by the end of November.

But what is going to happen to thousands of non-Syrian migrants who will inevitably be sent back to Greece by other EU states is less clear.

Overcrowding on Greek islands caused scuffles between migrants and police during the summer, and new flare-ups remain a present danger.

- Violence ahead of visit -

The UN refugee agency on Friday said some of its staff had to be briefly evacuated from the registration site of Moria on Thursday, a day before Avramopoulos and Asselborn visited the facility as part of their visit to Lesbos.

"Violence erupted yesterday at the crowded Moria registration site when groups of single men tried to jump queues and force their way into the registration offices. Police had to be called in to try to quell the disturbances, which continued to flare into the evening," the UNHCR said.

European leaders are scrambling for solutions to manage the tide and discourage migrants -- many of them refugees from the Syrian war -- from risking their lives in illegal crossings run by traffickers.

On Thursday, a wooden boat carrying dozens of migrants sank near Lesbos after colliding with a Greek coastguard vessel.

Seven people, including four children died, and the body of a woman that could be part of the same group was found on Friday.

According to Greece's port police, the boat had apparently been attempting to flee the coastguard vessel.

Over 200 migrants have died making the perilous Aegean Sea crossing from Turkey to Greece this year.

On Wednesday, a woman, a young girl and a baby died after their boat sank off Lesbos.

Late on Thursday, EU leaders at a summit had urged Turkey to help stem the refugee flow.

Brussels is offering aid and has dangled the carrot of progress in Turkey's long-standing EU membership talks, which have stalled over its human rights record.

But Ankara has appeared reluctant so far on the refugee plan, demanding more cash and swifter moves towards visa-free travel to Europe for its citizens, as well as rejecting proposals for more refugee camps.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says more than 610,000 migrants have landed on Europe's shores since January, while more than 3,000 had died or gone missing in the attempt.

More than 470,000 people have arrived in Greece according to the IOM, most of them fleeing the civil war in Syria.


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