Greek Minister Vows New Measures to Appease Island Mayors on Migrants
The “anxiety and indignation” of Greek island residents living at the forefront of a migration crisis are justified, Greece's migration and asylum minister said Thursday after two days of protests aimed at urging the government to tackle severe overcrowding at migrant camps.
Residents and business owners on the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos have held the protests and went on strike asking for action at the camps that are all grossly over capacity.
Local mayors and the regional governor traveled to Athens to meet with Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis Thursday to press their demands.
“We consider citizens' anxiety and indignation justified,” Mitarakis said after the meeting. “Our country is indeed dealing with a migration crisis, and increased migration flows in 2019” put pressure on local communities, he said.
Greece’s six-month-old government has vowed to ease refugee camp overcrowding but so far has not managed to do so. It also said it would speed up deportations and introduce pre-departure camps that are closed. Migrants in the current camps are free to come and go, although they cannot leave the islands.
Greece has been the first point of entry into the European Union for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war or poverty at home, with most arriving on eastern Aegean islands from nearby Turkey.
Under a 2016 EU-Turkey deal, new arrivals must stay on the islands pending deportation back to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece. Only those deemed vulnerable can be transferred to the mainland.
Long delays in the asylum process have led to thousands being stranded on the islands, with camps at between six and 12 times over their capacity.
Mitarakis said the government and the islands officials agreed on current priorities, which are to reduce the number of new arrivals, ease overcrowding in the camps, speed up returns to Turkey, improve the asylum process and improve healthcare facilities on the islands.
“We agree on the need for there to be closed pre-departure facilities, we disagree on the size and the method of operation,” Mitarakis said.
The minister added he would be meeting the mayors and regional governor every two weeks.