Children playing at the overcrowded Moria migrant camp on the Greek Aegean island of Lesbos | Photo: AFP/LOUISA GOULIAMAKI
Children playing at the overcrowded Moria migrant camp on the Greek Aegean island of Lesbos | Photo: AFP/LOUISA GOULIAMAKI

The local municipalities on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos, and Chios, which have been hard hit by the migrant crisis, have received special funding from the Greek government and are also set to receive grants to help alleviate emergencies and compensate for damages.

Greece's North East Aegean islands of Lebvos, Samos and Chios, which have bore the brunt of the ongoing migrant crisis in the country, have received a welcome cash injection from government coffers as they continue their efforts in dealing with refugees and migrants. 

A joint announcement by the migration ministry and the finance ministry revealed the local municipalities of those three islands received a total of 2.7 million euros between them in the first quarter of 2020. 

The money is to go towards migrant accommodation, and comes on the heels of a total of 9.4 million received for 2019. 

In addition, following a recent government circular, the islands' municipalities will also receive grants in the next four weeks for local residents to cover "emergencies and compensation as a result of any damages caused to the properties of third parties." 

The joint decision co-signed by the ministries also includes the activation of a special 25-million-euro solidarity fund "to finance infrastructure projects exclusively in local government organizations within the areas where either migrant and refugee accommodation units operate, or migrant and refugee accommodation units will be put into operation." 

A welcome boost for local municipalities 

The news is a welcome boost for beleaguered local municipalities on the North East Aegean islands, who have been at loggerheads with the state over its policies and handling of the migration crisis. 

The human rights organization HRW has accused Greece's government of "neglect" and "risking migrants' lives" in what it claims has been a poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis with regards to health and safety measures at refugee and migrant camps around the country. 

HRW said the Greek authorities have not done enough to address dangerous overcrowding, lack of health care, and access to basic human needs such as adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene products to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the camps. 

Workers at migrant reception centres, as well as other NGOs and local residents' groups, have joined the chorus of criticism, attributing the frequent outbreaks of violence and fires at the camps to pressure on migrants due to poor living conditions, many different nationalities living in the same area, and the impact of COVID-19. 

They have consistently resisted the state's attempts to open new "closed" migrant centers to replace the existing facilities. 

Arrivals continue as 51 people are quarantined 

While the government's programme of transferring migrants from the islands to alternative accommodation on the Greek mainland remains painfully slow, with weekly numbers of the so-called "vulnerable" groups being moved in the hundreds rather than in the thousands, more arrivals by sea continue. 

On Wednesday last week, a boat with 51 refugees and migrants -- men, women, and children of African and Afghan descent -- arrived on Lesbos. Municipal staff provided them with water and emergency supplies, and they were then placed under a 14-day quarantine as part of measures to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

No solution has yet been determined for they will be transferred, so the group will be temporarily housed near the port. 

Workers in the West Lesbos municipality are in the area to disinfect and sanitise it, and help in any way they can. 

The city council approved a temporary facility in the nearby village of Sykamia, but the local council filed an objection. That objection, stating strong opposition to using the village as a quarantine site, has not yet been heard by the local court. 

This could result in the 51 migrants having to sleep rough for some weeks, as was the case with 127 refugees and migrants who arrived on the shores of West Lesbos in March. They lived on the street for a month before being transferred to the Moria police station and then onwards to appropriate accommodation facilities.

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