Refugees and migrants at Kara Tepe camp on Lesbos island on September 19, 2020 | Photo: EPA/Vangelis Papantonis
Refugees and migrants at Kara Tepe camp on Lesbos island on September 19, 2020 | Photo: EPA/Vangelis Papantonis

More than 4,000 refugees and asylum seekers have been relocated from Greece to other countries in the European Union since April 2020, according to various UN agencies. Meanwhile, the number of refugees and migrants on the Greek islands has fallen from 40,000 to less than 10,000.

A total of 1,628 refugees, 1,531 asylum seekers and 849 unaccompanied children have been relocated since the start of an EU-funded initiative to transfer vulnerable residents from refugee camps in Greece to other EU countries.

“We are proud to mark the relocation of 4,000 people from Greece during trying times and are confident that we can do more together with Greece, our partners and governments across Europe”, said Gianluca Rocco, chief of mission for UN Migration Agency (IOM) in Greece.

The program cracked the mark of 4,000 relocatees when 43 asylum-seekers were flown from Greece to France on Thursday, said a statement from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the IOM and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The three agencies said they “jointly encourage further steps towards a predictable, systematic European relocation mechanism.”

IOM staff seen assisting in a voluntary relocation from Malta to Germany | Copyright: IOM
IOM staff seen assisting in a voluntary relocation from Malta to Germany | Copyright: IOM

Particular attention paid to minors

The UN said it stands ready to “further support more relocations through a systematic, standardized process for those in need, including unaccompanied children.”

The UNHCR said that the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum would continue to coordinate a “process for the identification and processing of children to ensure relocations are in the best interests of every child” -- with the help of the Special Secretary for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors, UNHCR, IOM, UNICEF, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and the Greek Asylum Service.

Children at Kara Tepe refugee camp on Lesbos, Greece, in September 2020 | Photo: EPA/Orestis Panagiotou
Children at Kara Tepe refugee camp on Lesbos, Greece, in September 2020 | Photo: EPA/Orestis Panagiotou

Solidarity key to successful relocation

Meanwhile, the Greek government announced that the number of asylum seekers on the Aegean islands had fallen below 8,500 for the first time since the beginning of Europe’s so-called migration crisis 2015. In April of last year, the number of asylum seekers on the islands was 40,000 -- more than four times as high.

Following the September 2020 fire in the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, efforts by Greek authorities to relocate refugees from the Aegean islands to the Greek mainland and other EU countries increased significantly.

To date, 13 countries, including Germany, France, Portugal, Finland, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg have all taken in those who have been relocated -- though most people were relocated to the Greek mainland.

Relocation efforts have been stepped up since the devastating fire at the Moria refugee camp | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/S.Baltagiannis
Relocation efforts have been stepped up since the devastating fire at the Moria refugee camp | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/S.Baltagiannis

“European states demonstrate vital solidarity with Greece’s communities through the relocation of refugees and vulnerable asylum seekers, and such efforts should become the norm and be expanded,” said Mireille Girard, UNHCR representative in Greece. 

“Relocation shows that to help coastal countries manage arrivals a multilateral approach is needed – only by working together and sharing the responsibility can we meet common challenges and secure solutions for the most vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers,” she added.

Islands on frontline of Greek migration policy'

Currently, reception centers for asylum seekers at two of the Aegean islands -- Leros and Kos -- are almost empty. Leros' center hosts just 82 refugees and migrants, while there are 80 on Kos' facility.

The numbers of migrants and refugees on the islands of Chios and Samos have also decreased significantly: On Samos, there are less than 1,600 migrants and refugees, and on Chios that number is 508. The number of migrants and refugees on Samos has shrunk down to almost a quarter of what it was just a few months ago, according to Greek national broadcaster ERT.

The only island still working more intensely on relocating migrants is Lesbos. The much-criticized Kara Tepe camp, which was built after the Moria fire, still houses about about 5,000 migrants and refugees -- though that is significantly fewer the nearly 13,000 people housed in the predecessor camp until September. Many migrants, refugees and NGOs have called out the "squalid" living conditions at the camp.

with AFP, UNHCR, dpa

 

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