Director of controversial Chios refugee hot spot resigns

Official steps down amid pressure from locals to close Vial camp

23 January, 18:45

    ATHENS - The director of the controversial Vial refugee and migrant camp on the island of Chios has resigned, Greece's Migration Policy Ministry said on Tuesday, amid mounting pressure from locals to close it down. Theofilos Tsingalakis, the man tasked with running the hugely overcrowded Vial camp where living conditions have been heavily criticized by human rights groups, cited mounting pressure from "local proponents" as his reason for quitting, without elaborating further.

    Vial has been the subject of a blockade by local residents who oppose to the government's efforts to expand the facility in order to cope with the continuing influx of refugees and migrants on boats from Turkey.

    There have been protests, led by local residents, to close the camp down, but Greece's Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas has insisted that this cannot and will not happen until the number of people staying there are reduced significantly.

    Chios, along with Lesvos and Samos, has borne the brunt of the ongoing refugee crisis and locals are angry with big delays in the transfer of thousands of the migrant population staying at Vial to Athens, and only lifted their week-long blockade on Monday. According to the latest figures, there are just over 1,600 migrants living at the state-run camp, which was built to hold a capacity of just 800. Many people, including families and vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied minors and women, are forced to sleep outside in tents due to a lack of space. Human rights watchdog Human Rights Watch have heavily criticized the Greek authorities in its annual review for 2018, for what they describe as "failure to properly identify vulnerable asylum seekers for transfer to the mainland," while also claiming that Greece has "impeded their access to proper care and services." HRW also stated that the EU-Turkey agreement made in March 2016 to try and stem the flow of migrants into Greece and the EU in general has simply lead to "thousands being trapped in Greece in overcrowded and abysmal conditions, while denying most access to adequate asylum procedures or refugee protection." Over 50,000 refugees and migrants remain stranded in Greece, with delays in asylum applications causing a huge backlog due to the sheer number of people that the authorities have to register and process. 

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