Rights envoy urges Greece to transfer migrants to mainland

BRUSSELS (AP) – The situation in Greece’s migrant camps is “explosive,” a senior European Union (EU) official said yesterday, and she is urging the country’s authorities to transfer asylum-seekers from islands to the mainland as soon as possible.

Greek authorities are struggling to cope with a sharp rise in the number of arrivals over the summer months on Lesbos and other islands in the eastern Aegean Sea where EU-funded camps are suffering severe overcrowding and outbreaks of violence.

“The situation of migrants, including asylum-seekers, in the Greek Aegean islands has dramatically worsened over the past 12 months,” said Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic. “It is an explosive situation,” she said at the end of a five-day visit in Greece, urging the country to address appalling living conditions in camps.

Mijatovic said she witnessed appalling conditions in the “vastly overcrowded camps” on Lesbos, Samos and Corinth, including people waiting in line for hours to get food or use bathrooms, “when these are available.”

She said she also saw families on Samos setting up makeshift shelters often made from trees on steep hillsides.

Refugees and migrants who just arrive at the port of Elefsina, near Athens, wait to board buses. PHOTO: AP

“This no longer has anything to do with the reception of asylum-seekers,” she said. “This has become a struggle for survival.”

Mijatovic praised Greece’s plan to transfer 20,000 migrants from the islands to the mainland by the end of this year, insisting their relocation should be done urgently.

According to recently reported EU data, Greece is now Europe’s busiest entry point with more than 47,500 arrivals this year through October 6, a 29 per cent increase from 2018.

The report said Greece has received more than EUR2.2 billion in EU assistance, but is failing to make use of a 2016 EU-Turkey agreement that allowed for the deportation of many migrants from Greece back to Turkey.

“The Greek authorities must overcome all the bureaucratic obstacles that are hindering the effective use of these funds,” Mijatovic said. “At the same time, European countries must take more responsibility in providing ways for relocating people from Greece to other member states, giving Greece breathing space to make structural improvements.”