November 24, 2019
ATHENS – Unable to keep Turkey from letting human traffickers flood Greek islands with hundreds more of refugees and migrants arriving almost daily, Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis is now facing a near-rebellion of officials who don’t want new detention centers built.
The government said it would replace camps on the islands that are holding more than 36,000 refugees and migrants who fled their homelands in the Middle East and elsewhere, going to Turkey as a launching pad to get to Greece where they can seek asylum after the European Union shut its borders to them.
There are more than 96,000, including on the mainland and thousands are going to be transferred from island camps, technically violating an essentially-suspended EU swap deal with Turkey which has taken back only about 2,000 since 2016 and keeps sending more.
On the islands, local authorities claim not have been consulted about the plans announced for new “closed” centers that would gradually replace existing overcrowded facilities where there has been frequent tension and violence between ethnic groups and with riot police.
On the mainland, residents in villages where the government wants to set up detention centers and has tried to house people in hotels has seen angry reactions and residents even blocking buses bringing in refugees and migrants they don’t want.
The government said it would deploy more border guards to keep out migrants ineligible for asylum, unlike refugees fleeing war zones such as those in Syria’s civil war and Afghanistan, blocking those looking for work and better opportunities.
Mitsotakis told Parliament he had approved the hiring of 400 guards at Greece’s land border with Turkey and another 800 guards for its islands. Greece will also upgrade its sea patrolling operations, he said, the news agency Reuters reported.
“Welcome in Greece are only those we choose. Those who are not welcomed will be returned,” Mitsotakis said. “We will permanently shut the door to illegal human traffickers, to those who want to enter although they are not entitled to asylum.”
The notorious Moria camp on Lesbos, a facility the BBC called “the worst in the world” is now holding more than 16,000 people in a place designed to hold only 2,850 and as the situation is just as bad on the islands of Samos where the Vathy camp is hosting 6,932 (10 times its capacity of 650) with 5,530 people in the Vial facility on Chios (created for 1,050,) said Kathimerini in a report on the rekindling of a crisis that began in 2015.
According to official figures, nearly 30,000 migrants have arrived in Greece from Turkey – via both land and sea – since the beginning of September, leading Mitsotakis to devise a plan to speed asylum applications as well as deportations and hoping to send 20,000 back to Turkey and put 20,000 on the mainland.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said it was anxious over the idea of detention centers after two dozen human rights groups and activists had said those already in operation on the islands weren’t fit for humans.
MSF said the centers may provide better living conditions but could eventually turn into prisons for people who seek safety and are already trapped “in an endless drama”.
“The detention centers, the closed centers…may become prisons at the end of the day, and will not treat people as humans. They will treat them as problems,” MSF President Christos Christou told reporters.
Those detained will not be allowed to leave without risking rejection of any asylum hopes and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) who have been volunteering at camps and centers will be barred from entering into the facilities.