Migrants and refugees disembarking from a ferry in the port of Kavala, northern Greece | Photo: EPA/LASKARIS TSOUTSAS
Migrants and refugees disembarking from a ferry in the port of Kavala, northern Greece | Photo: EPA/LASKARIS TSOUTSAS

The Greek opposition party Syriza has criticized the Greek government's policies on refugees and migrants. It accused the government of cutting spending and closing migrant facilities, and also attacked the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The centre-left opposition Syriza party said that the Greek government had "gone backwards" under its current leadership by the New Democracy (ND) party, which won at elections a year ago.

In a press conference held by Syriza's department of civil rights, the party voiced its views on various policies implemented since Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' government came to power, highlighting shortfalls in housing, social inclusion and migrant access to health and education.

Concerns over future of migrant housing

Over the past year, the government has repeatedly been criticized for its handling of overcrowded refugee camps on the Greek Islands as well as for its slow transfer to the Greek mainland of vulnerable migrants stuck on these island camps. Its introduction of tougher regulations, which limit the rights of migrants and refugees, has also been a bone of contention.

Several NGOs and human rights groups, including the UNHCR, have criticized the government's decision to cut spending on a housing program for asylum seekers by up to 30%. They say the spending cut means vulnerable groups will have fewer safe places to live.

Many NGOs, human rights groups, and media observers said the government has been taking advantage of the global pandemic to continue its so-called policy of "containment" regarding refugees and migrants on the Greek Islands.

"When we were in power, we put in a lot of effort in comparison with other countries, not focusing on closed reception centres reminiscent of concentration camps, but in actual homes and accommodations, where people could enjoy their civil rights," former minister of migration policy, Dimitris Vitsas, said during the press conference.

"Over 12,500 refugee children were integrated into school programs.Everyone had access to health services. We took part in actively working with local municipal governments and refugee and migrant associations," he added.

'Shield of Europe'

The results of the government's change in policy could be seen in recent weeks in the capital Athens, where migrants were forced to sleep rough in several city squares as the government proceeded with closing 60 of the 93 hospitality facilities created in hotels for asylum seekers on the mainland.

The former secretary general of migration policy, Miltiadis Klapas, also expressed his dismay at the government under Prime Minister Mitsotakis, accusing it of turning Syriza policies on their heads: "Syriza used a lot of diplomatic and political capital around the doctrine 'Greece - shield of Europe,' which is now being exploited by the ND government," Klapas said. "And this is the kind of medieval logic that considers refugees and migrants its enemies, and turns a European issue into a purely Greek-Turkish one, allowing Turkey to use it as another weapon, along with its other aspirations," he added.

Former immigration policy minister Giannis Mouzalas meanwhile said the policy under the ND government condemned "the Greek people to a fate whereby they are constantly exposed to attempts by (Turkish President) Ergodan to use refugees, and to become a 'people warehouse' to a much greater extent."

Distribution of migrants made difficult

MP Giota Poulou, the former mayor of Livadia, said the only way forward is the distribution of migrants and refugees in municipalities throughout Greece. She said the revamped conditions of the 'ESTIA 2' program made this difficult for municipalities:

"The ineffective and anti-democratic policy of the ND government means migrants are being pushed into closed detention centres, devaluing a programme that was based on the balance between refugees and local communities."


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