Greece begins moving migrants from Lesbos to mainland amid surge in refugee arrivals
The Greek government on Saturday unveiled a series of measures to cope with a new influx of migrants from Turkey, following a spike in the numbers of migrants arriving on its islands in August.
The Greek Council for Foreign Affairs met urgently after the simultaneous arrival of more than a dozen migrant boats on Thursday, a first since the agreement concluded between the European Union and Turkey in March 2016.
The people on board were taken to the already overcrowded Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, which is holding 10,000 migrants, despite only having a capacity for 3,000.
In response to the situation, Athens announced that asylum seekers would be transferred to the mainland.
“We will also start sending illegal migrants back to Turkey which, after all, is considered a safe country,” Greece’s civil protection minister, Michalis Chrysochoidis said.
“Of the 80,000 people presently in Greece half should have been sent back already as they do not have the right documents or fulfil the conditions of asylum seekers. Instead only 1,800 have been readmitted to Turkey.”
Border patrols will also be stepped up in cooperation with Frontex, the EU’s external border control agency, and the police will more actively search for asylum seekers who have remained in Greece following the rejection of their case file, the government said
Asylum procedures will also be shortened by reducing appeal possibilities, Athens added.
Most of the refugees who arrived during the summer were Afghan nationals but the Greek authorities fear a new influx of Syrian refugees following crackdown on migrants in Turkey, home to more than 3.6 million displaced Syrians, and the siege on in Idlib province, the last enclave of the rebels, where some 3 million people live.
Since the EU-Turkey agreement signed in March 2016, border control has been strengthened, making access to Greece from Turkey increasingly difficult. But in recent months, nearly an average of 100 people have been arriving each day to make the crossing.