Two new facilities are set to open soon in a bid to ease the pressure on the overcrowded refugee camps on the north eastern Aegean islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros.
The two centers will open "within the coming weeks" in Vaiochori, near Thessaloniki in the north, and in Kypselochori, close to Larissa in the central Thessaly region, according to state sources.
Despite the fact that the number of migrants on the Aegean islands has dropped to around 11,000 this month, from around 18,000 last summer, many hundreds are still sleeping in tents in the cold winter weather due to overcrowding.
Human rights groups and NGO's have long criticized the government's painfully slow efforts to transfer people from the islands to the mainland, but progress remains sluggish.
The two new centers should pave the way for the transfer of hundreds of people from the Aegean islands. The reason the number is not thousands is because at the same time, the two facilities will also help to alleviate the increased influx of migrants arriving at the land border with Turkey.
Spike in land arrivals
According to official figures released by Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas last week, of the 47,929 people who arrived in Greece last year, 32,115 came by sea from Turkey, while another 15,814 crossed the land border at Evros. In 2018, arrivals by land increased by 284 percent, while there was only a 10 percent increase in arrivals by sea in the Aegean islands.
The regional asylum processing office in Thessaloniki is reportedly struggling to cope with their workload following a fire at its offices at the end of December, which has slowed down the application process for many asylum seekers even further. Staff have been moved to a temporary venue and according to local media reports, appointments for asylum seekers are being put back as far as two years.