The number of migrants housed in overcrowded camps on the Greek islands has fallen for the first time in over a year. The UNHCR is calling on the government to integrate refugees into Greek society and close down the camps altogether.
The United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR says the number of asylum seekers on the five
Greek islands Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos has fallen for the first time
since January 2019. In April there were 38,291 people in refugee camps on the
islands, down from 42,052 in February, the UN said.
Philippe Leclerc, the UNHCR representative in Greece, said this was due to a stark decrease of arrivals to land and sea borders from neighboring Turkey, and the transfer of migrants to mainland Greece.
“We saw the Greek response to COVID-19 and it has done very well, and swiftly,” Leclerc told an online press conference.
The number of arrivals has fallen in part because of restrictions on movement imposed by Turkey to contain the spread of coronavirus. Greece has also made it harder for irregular migrants to enter by stepping up patrols on its borders.
'Integrate migrants into Greek society'
While praising Greece for reducing the number of migrants held in the island camps, the UNHCR said people still living on the islands continue to suffer in unhealthy and overcrowded conditions. The camps were built to house a total of 5,400 people.
Leclerc appealed to the government to allow migrants "to make their own living and integrate into the Greek society … to help these people to stand on their feet again," and allow the island camps to be closed.
He said the migrants and refugees could help in the country’s agriculture sector, which has been affected by restrictions on movement and a lack of seasonal workers from neighboring countries.