The number of migrants and refugees stuck on the Greek islands has peaked at above 40,000. The Greek government hopes that the introduction of new laws next year will help bring the numbers down — by deporting many asylum seekers back to Turkey.
The Hellenic Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection announced that over the past weekend, the number of migrants stuck on the islands in the eastern Aegean Sea had officially reached 40,313.
Just six months ago in April 2019, the number of migrants living in camps on the islands was roughly a third of its current magnitude, with 14,000 migrants reported as living there.
In a bid to manage and mitigate the dimensions of the situation, the Greek government has transferred 10,000 migrants and refugees to camps on the Greek mainland over the past few months, and plans to move another 10,000 people by the end of the year.
Situation particularly dire on Lesbos
Close to half of all asylum seekers on the Greek islands are currently stuck on Lesbos; more than 18,000 asylum seekers are crammed into the Moria reception and identification center on the island, which was built to handle 3,000 people.
In November alone, nearly 3,900 asylum seekers landed on Lesbos from Turkey.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said, after a visit to Lesbos at the end of November, that the "conditions are very challenging and need urgent improvement."
"We cannot accept that [refugees] live in such miserable living conditions," he added.
More deportations under new law
The government hopes that with the introduction of new legislation designed to speed up the processing of asylum applications on January 01, 2020, the situation will become easier to handle.
According to the new law, rejected asylum seekers who had entered the Greek mainland from neighboring Turkey will be sent back to Turkey as quickly as possible. The vast majority of refugees and migrants coming to Greece pass through Turkey as their last country of transit. According to the European Union's 2016 agreement with Turkey, rejected migrants and refugees can be sent back to Turkey if they entered Greece via Turkey.
The government expects the number of deportations to Turkey to rise after the introduction of the new law, with the ultimate aim of turning reception centers into deportation facilities. Greece's new conservative government has taken a tougher stance on migration than its leftist predecessor, stressing that it will "shut the door" to people not entitled to stay in the country.
Authorities believe that a total of more than 80,000 migrants and refugees are currently in Greece.
with dpa, AFP