Greece moves 1,500 refugees out of controversial camp

Transfers from Moria on Lesvos to mainland underway

02 September, 17:23

    Transfer of 1,500 refugees and migrants from Mytilene underway Transfer of 1,500 refugees and migrants from Mytilene underway

    ATHENS - Greece's most notoriously crowded refugee camp for asylum seekers is finally seeing a significant reduction of capacity with an operation underway to transfer around 1,500 people to the mainland in alternative facilities.

    With the camp on Lesvos bursting at the seams for months, and thousands of refugees living in extremely difficult conditions, an operation began on Monday to carry out the single largest number of people in one day since the start of the refugee crisis in 2015.

    Two Greek navy ships, the CALDERA VISTA and AQUA BLUE were used in the operation, which began at 5am local time. All of the migrants are expected to be taken first to the Northern port city of Thessaloniki before being transferred to new facilities created at Nea Kavala, in the Kilkis area.

    Among those transferred are those with pre-July 2019 documentation and mainly those belonging to vulnerable groups such as women, children, people with illness and disabilities, and unaccompanied minors.

    The transfer is a landmark for the Greek authorities, who have been accused of operating with a "containment policy" where refugees are concerned, essentially trapping them on the Eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos where the bulk of people have been arriving on boats from the Turkish coast.

    With this move, the government is trying to ease the burden on the Moria camp, where the numbers spiralled to 10,241 people in August, staying at the camp which is meant for only 3,000 people.

    Last month, Greece's Alternate Minister of Citizens' Protection Giorgos Koumoutsakos, who is also responsible for migration issues, said that the Eastern Aegean Islands were suffering from "strangulation" due to overcrowding such as that at Moria and other refugee camps.

    "The islands right now are suffering from strangulation due to overcrowding at the facilities, and there is a need for more effective border guarding, and concern over possible increased flows in the coming period," said a statement from the Ministry of Citizens' Protection.

    The statement added: "Legislation is also being drafted to try to speed up asylum procedures, and at the meeting it was also discussed about the need for a more efficient return process to Turkey, as well as to other countries." Now it seems that finally some positive action is being taken by the authorities - a feat which is long overdue according to NGOs and aid organisations who have constantly criticized Greece for its perceived poor handling of the ongoing refugee crisis.

    The ongoing refugee crisis in Greece continues to show no signs of abating as Frontex, the European Union border agency, announced that the flow of people into some parts of the country rose by a quarter compared to last year.

    According to data released by Frontex in August, the main problem is the rising numbers of illegal migrant arrivals on the islands of the eastern Aegean.

    "The Eastern Mediterranean remained the busiest migratory route into Europe with nearly 5 800 detections in July 2019," said Frontex in a media statement. The statement added: "In the first seven months of this year, the total number of detections in this region was down 6% from a year ago to almost 28,200. Despite the overall decrease, the number of arrivals on the Greek islands in the Aegean increased by a quarter in comparison with the same period of last year." And there is little sign of a let-up. Overall, it is estimated that Greece's population of asylum seekers will surpass the 90,000 mark by the end of 2019 at current rates.

    With its current systems and infrastructure, Greece's Migration Policy Ministry recently conceded last month that the country only has the capacity to process only 20,000 asylum applications every year, whereas the number of applications received in 2018 were a massive 67,000.

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