Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 February 2020

Planned Greece migrant camps met with fierce backlash

Government plans to accelerate asylum process amid international condemnation of existing camps

Riot police stand guard as refugees and migrants demonstrate, as tension between the newcomers and island communities in Greece remain high. Reuters
Riot police stand guard as refugees and migrants demonstrate, as tension between the newcomers and island communities in Greece remain high. Reuters

Greek officials face a backlash on two fronts as islanders vow to block plans for new camps for asylum seekers amid activist concerns at the centres’ draconian rules.

Residents of the island of Lesbos organised a rally outside the interior ministry in Athens after the mayors of islands where the camps will be built announced a breakdown of talks with Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis.

Mr Mitarakis said the government will start setting up the camps next month, in response to growing tension about the overcrowded, unsafe conditions in the country’s existing camps.

Those to be shut down currently house about 42,000 people in dire conditions that have been repeatedly castigated by rights groups and the Council of Europe. They have a nominal capacity of only 6,200, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said.

The new camps are designed to accommodate up to 20,000 asylum seekers and are expected to be ready by mid-2020. People in the closed camps will be allowed to go out during the day, but they will be locked in at night, government spokesman Stelios Petsas said.

The refugee agency’s representative in Greece, Philippe Leclerc, said closed camps similar to those planned for the Greek islands already operate elsewhere in Europe, while stressing that the migrants should stay in them for only “a short period of time”.

“The detention of asylum seekers, especially minors, should be an absolute exception,” he added.

“The most important thing is to find a quick solution to the unacceptable overcrowding on the islands.”

But the move met an immediate backlash, and on Tuesday the Regional Council of the Aegean called for an end to dialogue with Athens unless legislation to allow property and land to be seized by the state and used for construction of the camps is withdrawn.

At the same time, the authorities on Lesbos took the fight against the camps into their own hands and announced the creation of groups of residents to take turns guarding areas of land to prevent groundwork beginning.

The conservative government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in power since last July, has said it wished to “accelerate” a review of procedures for granting asylum.

It has already passed a law stiffening asylum requirements for migrants, and has pledged to send more border patrols.

Updated: February 12, 2020 03:44 PM

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