Migrants who arrived at Skala Sikamias, Lesbos island, Greece, on 29 August 2019 | Photo: EPA/STRATIS BALASKAS
Migrants who arrived at Skala Sikamias, Lesbos island, Greece, on 29 August 2019 | Photo: EPA/STRATIS BALASKAS

Greece is set to open two new "transit camps" on the mainland to speed up transfers of migrants and refugees from its islands. The initiative is an attempt to reduce overcrowding in the camps on Lesbos, Chios and Samos.

Greece has announced it will open two new "transit camps" on its mainland for migrants and refugees.

The goal: To speed up the transfer of asylum seekers from desperately overcrowded camps on the northeast Aegean islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos. 

There has been a huge spike in arrivals in recent weeks, which has put a massive strain on resources and has caused tensions at existing camps. 

Locals concerned over potential permanence of camps 

The Greek Citizen Protection Ministry said the new units would be temporary, serving only as transit centers. But locals are concerned that the centers could eventually turn into permanent camps as the influx of migrants into Greece, especially from Turkey, continues. 

One of the two camps will be located in a defunct military base in the village of Karavomylos in the region of Fthiotida, while the second is planned as an addition to an already existing pre-departure center in Corinth in the Peloponnese region. 

The government wants both facilities to start operating by the end of the month. They are supposed to accommodate approximately 1,000 migrants and refugees. 

Government in crisis? 

Greece's government, led by the New Democracy party, is already facing the wrath of the beleaguered local communities on the islands, and it now risks upsetting more citizens as it struggles to cope with the migrant and refugee influx.

Virginia Stergiou, mayor of the town of Stylida, which is located just north of the village of Karavomylos where one of the transit centres is set to open, has spoken out against the move. 

"It is not acceptable that in a coastal zone where we are trying to plan to develop our tourism that we have to face this," she told reporters. "For starters, that place is not fit to operate as a reception centre, the conditions are not up to scratch [...] The haste, the lack of due diligence and the manner in which the whole thing is being done shows that the government is not on the right track. The municipality cannot lift all this burden. The outcome will be very bad for the citizens here, but also for the refugees themselves, because of the conditions in the camp." 

Transfers speeding up 

Earlier this month, roughly 1,500 refugees were transferred from Lesbos on two naval vessels to alternative facilities in northern Greece. 

These transfer were a landmark for the Greek authorities, who have been accused of operating with a "containment policy" for asylum seekers, essentially trapping them on the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos where the bulk of people have been arriving on boats from the Turkish coast. 

The transfers, however, have been offset by a massive new influx of people arriving from Turkey. Since September 1, there have been 2,374 sea arrivals in Greece, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

This comes as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to make bold statements about "opening the gates" as he argues with the European Union on the refugee issue. 

More facilities to come 

To avoid an humanitarian emergency like in 2015, Greece is reportedly continuing to plan for creating additional facilities in various areas on the mainland. 

The Greek Migration Policy Ministry recently conceded that the country only has the capacity to process 20,000 asylum applications every year with its current systems and infrastructure. In 2018, the number of applications they received was more than three times as high – 67,000. 

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