A group of migrants who landed on the Greek island of Lesbos in recent days has boarded a navy ship docked in Mytilene harbor. Reports suggest that the migrants will be transferred on the ship to the Greek mainland, where they will be held in detention.
The first group of 15 migrants boarded the Rhodos navy ship on Wednesday afternoon. Later, the Greek news agency ANA reported that 80 people had been transferred from a make-shift camp at port to the ship, having been through special identification procedures at the Mytilene police headquarters.
Around 500 people, including families with small children, have been stranded at Mytilene harbor since arriving from Turkey over the weekend. "The migrants are contained by the police to avoid clashes with the locals," Anna Pantelia, communications manager with Doctors Without Borders, told InfoMigrants French.
ANA reported on Thursday that 428 people were being housed in buses or had been taken to a fenced-off area or indoor passenger terminal due to heavy rain.
A Greek military source said the migrants would stay on the Rhodos, which normally had a capacity of 400, "as long as necessary".
Astrid Castelein of the UN refugee agency on Lesbos said the UNHCR and other aid groups would provide mattresses and bedding, as this type of vessel was not normally meant to house people.
A Greek defense ministry source said the migrants would stay on the transport ship until a new facility to accommodate them had been created on the mainland, AFP reports. Several reports suggest that the migrants will be transferred to the Greek mainland, where they will be held in detention.
No asylum requests
Last week Greece suspended asylum procedures and reinforced its borders after the Turkish government said it would no longer stop migrants and refugees from entering Europe.
On Tuesday evening, hundreds of migrants who had already filed asylum requests headed for Mytilene harbor hoping to get a berth on the Rhodos, AFP reports. After a few scuffles, police pushed them back. Some people had believed that they could buy a ferry ticket, but this was not the case, said Boris Cheshirkov, UNHCR representative on Lesbos.
The president of the coast guard at Mytilene, Fotis Garoufalias, told AFP that the migrants to get a place on the boat were newly arrived migrants who had not filed asylum requests.
"The instructions are to register them, without the possibility of making an asylum request, and to take them on to the boat for them to be transferred," he said. That process should be finished by the end of [Wednesday], he added.
The arrival of migrants on the Greek islands since Turkey’s announcement that it was opening the gates to Europe has exacerbated the volatile situation. Lesbos currently hosts more than 19,000 migrants in squalid conditions around a camp built for fewer than 3,000.
In recent days, local anger over the presence of the migrants has again led to violence. AFP reports that an extremist minority is accused of leading attacks on newly-arrived migrants, intimidating journalists and targeting aid workers, according to aid workers. "On Sunday, members of our team were physically and verbally attacked," Cheshirkov said.
New arrivals will be deported
Late Wednesday, the Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said the migrants arriving irregularly in Greece after March 1 would be transferred to the northern city of Serres and deported. "Our aim is to return them to their countries," the minister told ANA.
Mitarakis added that the migrants who had entered Greece before January 1, 2019 and were currently on the islands would be transferred to the Greek mainland in the coming days, Reuters news agency reports.