Greece's migration minister, Notis Mitarakis, has announced that more migrants are now leaving the country than arriving. He has also said that flows of people to the Aegean Islands have decreased significantly.
On Wednesday (April 14), Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said that more migrants are leaving Greece than arriving.
Mitarakis was addressing a multi-party conference in Athens with fellow migration policy party leaders on the progress of negotiations with the EU on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum. "In 2021 the flows of refugees and migrants to our islands have decreased by 89% compared to 2020," said Mitarakis.
According to the latest UNHCR data, 925 people arrived on Lesbos and the other Greek Aegean Islands between January 1 and April 11 this year. In 2020, 7,591 people arrived in the same period, the majority of all arrivals last year.
"The vast majority of asylum applications do not end up in an asylum examination," he added, "because those who have submitted the application do not actually appear at their interviews. Many refugees decide to try and leave of their own accord for central and western Europe."
No arrivals reported on some islands
"In some islands that we had a problem with in the past, there has not even been one report on an arrival for months," the migration minister said.
Indeed, Samos and the Dodecanese Islands have recorded zero arrivals so far this year, with Chios and Kos only seeing 99 people arrive. The vast majority of people this year have arrived on Lesbos.
"This has allowed us to close at least 70 structures on the mainland so far, while we have decongested our islands without the new structures that are being built," Mitarakis said.
According to UNHCR, 1,851 people have departed the islands to the mainland between March 8 and April 11. Close to 15,000 people remain on the islands, the majority of them from Afghanistan (49%), Syria (16%) and Somalia (8%). Women currently account for 21% of the islands' migrant population.
"In the last 12 months, more people have left the country legally, with deportations, voluntary departures, or relocations," Mitarakis said. According to the figures he announced, 7,300 arrived while 11,500 left in the last 12 months.
56,000 currently in hosting facilities
"In all of the accommodation facilities we now have 56,000, while a year ago that number was 92,000," Mitarakis said. "There are about 60,000 recognized refugees in our country, fewer than what the public believes."
According to the latest UNHCR data, however, more than 90,000 recognized refugees and more than 80,000 asylum seekers were staying in Greece this February. UNHCR noted that the actual number of recognized refugees present in Greece "may be lower."
"The picture has changed radically," Mitarakis said. "We have regained control, the flows of people are steadily declining, island decongestion has progressed significantly. At the same time we are reducing the burden on the hinterlands."
At the same time, the minister acknowledged that "the ongoing refugee crisis remains a topical issue, which will affect Greece and the wider EU for decades to come."
This is why Greece and the other "Med 5" countries -- Italy, Spain, Malta and Cyprus -- have sought a new "European Framework," which Mitarakis called "particularly important."
At the conference, Mitarakis highlighted several issues:
- Achieving the practical solidarity of the EU as a whole for a common European system with an equal share of responsibility between member states;
- Protecting Greece's borders, which are also the EU's external borders;
- The creation of a common European return mechanism; as well as
- Supporting and cooperating with migrants' countries of origin and the transit of migrants.
Another issue Mitarakis addressed is the full implementation of the agreement between the EU and Turkey from 2016.