Migrants demonstrating outside the Moria refugee camp protesting | Photo: EPA/STRATIS BALASKAS
Migrants demonstrating outside the Moria refugee camp protesting | Photo: EPA/STRATIS BALASKAS

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has urged Greece to move refugees and migrants from the islands to the mainland "to prevent the dangerously overcrowded conditions in the camps from worsening."

In a statement released on October 1, the UNHCR has warned Greece that thousands of asylum seekers and migrants on the Greek islands must be moved to the mainland. The agency stressed that arrival numbers had peaked in September, when more than 10,250 people — mostly Afghan and Syrian families — landed on the Greek islands, marking the highest monthly number registered since 2016.

Greece preferred route for migrants

In 2019, Greece has once more become the preferred destination of people crossing the Mediterranean heading into the EU via irregular migration routes, with approximately 45,600 out of 77.400 total crossings landing in Greece. That number is higher than those registered in Spain, Italy, Malta and Cyprus together. The islands of Lesbos, Samos and Kos alone currently have to host 30,000 migrants and asylum seekers.

UNHCR reported that the situation has become critical on the islands. The Moira reception center on Lesbos is already well above capacity, hosting 12,600 people — five times more than what it was designed for. In an informal settlement near the camp, 100 people are forced to share one bathroom. The UN agency also reported that tension remains high at the Moria Refugee Camp after a fire broke out there on Sunday, killing a female migrant.

Meanwhile in Samos, the Vathy center hosts 5,500 people - eight times its capacity. The majority of the migrants there have to sleep in tents with limited access to bathrooms, drinking water and medical care. Conditions have also sharply worsened on Kos, where 3,000 people share a space originally designed for 700.

Spike in underage migrant numbers

There are now more than 4,400 unaccompanied minors among the migrants in Greece, UNHCR said. One in four of these children is presently in a shelter that is not deemed to be age-appropriate. Authorities fear that abuse and other dangers might affects children in such places.

"Keeping people on the islands in these inadequate and insecure conditions is inhumane and must come to an end," UNHCR said in its statement.The agency urged Greek authorities to "fast-track plans to transfer over 5,000 asylum seekers already authorized to continue their asylum procedure onto the mainland." The UN agency also called for new accommodation units on the mainland given that most migrant facilities in continental Greece are already full. 

The UNHCR said it would continue to support transfers to the mainland in October, at the government's request, and noted that further long-term solutions were necessary to help the integration of refugees in Greece. 

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