Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis arrives for the European People's Party (EPP) leaders meeting ahead to European summit in Brussels, Belgium, on December 12, 2019 | EPA/Stephanie Lecocq
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis arrives for the European People's Party (EPP) leaders meeting ahead to European summit in Brussels, Belgium, on December 12, 2019 | EPA/Stephanie Lecocq

The new Greek government has been accused of "incompetence" after it reinstated a separate ministry for migration. Still, the government says it will move ahead with its plans to replace current "open" camps like Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos -- despite protests on the Aegean islands.

After it re-established a separate ministry for migration which it had originally abolished, Greece's New Democracy government, led by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was accused by opposition members of being "incompetent" and "causing chaos."

Mitsotakis' government announced on Wednesday a new ministry of migration and asylum, as it looks to increase efforts to accelerate policy implementation following a recent controversy on the Greek islands in the northeastern Aegean Sea.

Protests have been planned for next week on the Greek island of Chios after the local municipal council of the eastern Aegean island rejected the government's proposal to open a new, closed pre-departure center for migrants on the island, as well as similar facilities on Lesbos and Samos.

Government says it will move ahead with plans despite protests

After a marathon session that ended at midnight on Monday, Mitsotakis' government said on Tuesday that it would move ahead with its plans despite strong opposition. On Wednesday, the government swore in the new ministers in the presence of the President of the Hellenic Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos.
The new ministry will be led by Notis Mitarachi, who had been serving as the deputy minister of labor and social affairs. George Koumoutsakos, until now alternate minister for immigration policy, will take over as alternate minister. Former premier and Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras criticized Mitsotakis and his government's decision on Twitter.

"My congratulations to Mr Mitsotakis. It took him only six months and seven days to comprehend the mess he has made on the refugee issue and what a complete blunder of a decision of his it was to abolish the ministry of migration in the country with the largest refugee flows in all of Europe."

Tsipras' left-wing government had created the previous migration policy ministry during its tenure, which coincided with the outbreak of the refugee crisis in the region.

Ministry reinstated after crisis reported on Chios

The re-establishment of the ministry comes after protests were reported on Monday as Mitarachi, who presented the Greek government's plans in Chios for the new closed pre-departure facility at a marathon meeting, was jeered by locals outside the venue where the meeting was taking place.

Addressing the municipal council, Mitarachi commented that creating the new, closed facility on the island was a "prerequisite for the transfer of migrants and refugees and the eventual closure of the current overcrowded VIAL center."

Replacing 'open' camps

Under New Democracy's plans to decongest the Greek islands, the proposed facility on Chios is one of five similar sites that are planned in order to replace the current "open" camps such as those at Moria on Lesbos and Vathi on neighboring Samos.

Although conservatives won the election after pledging to "solve" the country's ongoing refugee crisis, the government is currently struggling with the same issues as the former Syriza-led cabinet.

While some measures have already been put in place to speed up asylum application processes -- transfers of people from the islands to the mainland as well as tougher legislative measures and border security with the help of Frontex -- Greek authorities are still dealing with major issues.

In December, Mitsotakis' government introduced stricter legislation on migration to limit new arrivals as much as possible, increase deportations and establish more restrictive "closed" holding centers.

The measures came into force amid a huge spike in migrant and refugee arrivals from neighboring Turkey in recent months, with tens of thousands of people held in overcrowded identification and reception centers on the Aegean islands which have long exceeded their capacity.

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