Migrants wait to board a Greek Navy vessel in the port of Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, March 5, 2020 | Photo: REUTERS/Elias Marcou
Migrants wait to board a Greek Navy vessel in the port of Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, March 5, 2020 | Photo: REUTERS/Elias Marcou

Around 440 migrants who were being held on a Greek naval vessel off Lesbos have been transferred to a detention facility on the Greek mainland. Various news agencies have reported they will be held at the center, north of Athens, ahead of being returned to Turkey.

Around 440 migrants who had been held on a Greek naval vessel since they tried to make it to the Greek island of Lesbos after Turkey lifted its border controls have been transferred to the Greek mainland. The vessel had been docked at Lesbos' Mytilini port since early March. 

When the Rhodos vessel left Lesbos on Saturday, March 14, agencies reported that its destination was shrouded in secrecy. On Sunday, according to the German news agency dpa, the vessel docked in mainland Greece and the migrants on board were transferred to a "closed reception" facility north of Athens.

'Pending deportation'

According to the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini, who quoted an anonymous official at the Greek migration ministry, the migrants were transferred to the facility "pending deportation."

The Greek news agency ANA-MPA reported that all migrants "who had crossed by sea to the Greek islands since March 1 are to be transferred to the mainland by next Saturday." The group on board the navy vessel Rhodos were the first contingent to which the new rules have been applied.

According to dpahumanitarian agencies criticized the conditions for migrants on board the ship and the fact that they had been unable to access their right to apply for asylum.

Suspension of asylum applications

On March 1 the Greek government announced the suspension of all asylum applications for one month, with immediate effect. 

In the light of the coronavirus pandemic, the Greek asylum service announced on Friday, March 13 that all its offices would also be closed temporarily. The statement on the asylum service's website said that all services (e.g. registrations, interviews, appeal submissions etc.)  would be closed to the public until April 10. 

"Applicants' cards and residence permits that are due to expire within the above mentioned period will remain valid," the statement read.

The Greek asylum service announced said that further updates would be issued in the coming days. 

Recent arrivals

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR reported that in the week between March 2-8, a total of 865 people arrived on the Aegean islands. This was a rise compared to the same week in 2019 but a drop on the previous week, when more than 1,000 migrants arrived.

The current migrant and refugee population on the Aegean islands stands at more than 41,000 people. Almost half or 49% are from Afghanistan; followed by about 19% from Syria and 6% from Somalia. 22% of those present are women and about 14% of them are unaccompanied children, mainly from Afghanistan.

In February 2020, according to the UNHCR's latest figures, 63 people were returned from Greece to Turkey. The majority of those were Pakistani nationals. Most of them had either withdrawn their asylum applications, had their requests refused or had their case closed "for other reasons."


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