Following a dramatic rise in the number of migrant arrivals on Lesbos in recent weeks, the Greek government this week moved 1,500 asylum seekers to mainland Greece. On Wednesday, scuffles broke out at the overcrowded Moria reception camp after 300 unaccompanied minors demanded to also be taken to the mainland. But many transferred migrants say the new camps are worse than Moria.
Greek police on Wednesday fired tear gas at hundreds of children who protested in the packed Moria migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, Athens News Agency reported. There were no reports of injuries at the time of publication.
Some 300 unaccompanied minors joined the protest at the overcrowded Moria camp, demanding to be transferred. The young migrants set fire to rubbish bins before being dispersed by teargas.
Earlier this week, a total of 1,500 mainly Afghan asylum seekers, including children, were transferred from Moria to camps on the Greek mainland. One is located in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, another one near it.
The move followed a dramatic rise in the number of arrivals to Lesbos and other Greek islands in recent weeks, bringing the Moria facility to the brink of collapse: About 7,000 migrants arrived in Greece irregularly by boat last month, the highest number in three years.
Last Thursday alone, 13 boats carrying around 540 people landed in Lesbos, the largest number in a single day since the signing of the EU-Turkey deal in 2016.
Taking the government by surprise, the surge in arrivals to the Aegean islands this summer has forced the Greek government to take action. The transfer of migrants to the mainland is part of the government's recent urgent measures.
From one ‘hell’ to another
"We left Moria hoping for something better," said Sazan, a 20-year-old Afghan. "And in the end, it's worse." Sazan is one of around 1,000 Afghans ferried in from Lesbos to the mainland. After six months of what he described as "hell" in Moria, Sazan said he had hoped for better.
But at the Nea Kavala camp some 60 kilometers north of the major port city of Thessaloniki, new arrivals complain of lack of access to basics such as water and electricity, he said.
Staff at the camp are struggling to find enough tents and to put basic facilities in place.
There were currently only 200 tents for 1,000 people, a source at the citizen protection ministry told news agency AFP. Other migrants ferried off Lesbos would be transferred to other camps, the source said.
The ministry had taken over responsibility for migrants after new conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis did away with the migration policy ministry after taking office in July.
Moria is Europe's biggest migrant camp on the island of Lesbos with a capacity for around 3,000 people. Yet it currently holds more than 11,000 migrants and refugees, most of whom are from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
The facility has been described by humanitarian groups as inhumane. Last month, an Afghan boy was killed in a fight in Moria. Moreover, women have told aid workers that they often feel unsafe.
Lack of education, toilets and doctors
"We thought Moria was the worst thing that could happen to us," said Mohamed Nour as he tried to settle his three children into a makeshift tent at the Nea Kavala camp.
"They told us it would only be a temporary stay, but we've been here for two days now and the conditions aren't good," the 28-year-old said. The ministry has promised to transfer the migrants to other camps by the end of the month.
But 15-year-old Tamim, who has already been at Nea Kavala for three months, said he has heard that before. "They told us the same thing when we arrived," he told AFP.
"It was better at Moria. At least we had English lessons. Here, we don't have anything to do," Tamim said.
Staff at Nea Kavala complain that they do not have enough resources available for the new arrivals. "We need more doctors and infrastructure to meet the needs of hundreds of children," said one camp worker, 35-year-old Angelos.
Greece: EU’s leading migrant entry point
Greece, currently home to more than 70,000 migrants and refugees across its territory, has seen more than 27,000 migrant arrivals since the beginning of the year; it became the leading entry point after surpassing fellow EU member state Spain this year. Together, the two EU countries currently account for roughly three out of four arrivals to Europe.
Rights groups have denounced the response of the new conservative government, which has tightened border controls and withdrawn the right for asylum seekers whose application is rejected to appeal the decision.
The aim of the Greek government is to send rejected applicants back to Turkey in order to speed up its asylum process.
Last Friday, the arrivals on Lesbos from Turkey prompted Greek foreign minister to summon the Turkish ambassador to "express Greece's deep discontent." The ambassador assured him that Turkey remained committed to the EU-Turkey deal.
But Ankara could do more to stop illegal migration between Turkey and Europe, according to the editors of the Greek daily Ekathimerini. Europe should be putting pressure on Turkey as well as on its own member states that refuse to accept their share of the burden, the paper said.
With material from AFP, AP