Greece has opened two more migrant holding centers on the Aegean islands of Kos and Leros situated near Turkey. The move has drawn ire by human rights groups.
Greece is going ahead with closing the five migrants camps set up on Greek islands, which had been set up in response to the migrant influx of 2015 and 2016, and replacing them with controversial "Closed Controlled Structures."
The five island camps originally set up in 2016 were designed to identify asylum seekers with a legitimate case while managing the flow of thousands of arrivals from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Funded by the European Union to the tune of €276 million, the new complexes feature barbed wire fences, high-tech x-ray surveillance systems as well as ID and fingerprint scanning systems at the gates.
Greek authorities, however, maintain that the camps are still going improve living conditions for migrants and refugees, even though a nighttime curfew is one of several points of contention that human rights groups have raised.
A new chapter in migration policy
The first such facility opened on the Greek island of Samos in September, while the remaining two structures are due to be inaugurated on Lesbos and Chios next year.
Initially announced in 2019, the new centers represent the tougher approach towards managing migrant flows into the country under the country’s conservative government.
The facilities are also intended to avoid dangerous overcrowding and alleviate the burden on local communities on the island, such as dwindling income through tourism, as the once-desirable Greek Islands became less attractive in recent years to holidaymakers.
Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President at the EU in charge of promoting the European Way of Life -- which includes migration and security -- said that the new centers would be beneficiary to migrants and locals alike, saying that the EU stood "by Greece, building a sustainable migration system."
Lessons from the past
As the centers on Kos and Leros opened on Saturday, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said the move was "a key pillar of our strict but fair immigration policy."
"We have finally put behind a crisis that started in 2015. A crisis that neither Greece nor Europe wants to relive," he stressed. Mitarachi also highlighted that there were now fewer than 600 asylum seekers on both Kos and Leros -- a number that was down from about 6,500 only a year ago.
Criticism over 'prison-like' structures
Human rights groups meanwhile have urged Greece to reconsider the move, with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) saying that the facilities were "prison-like."
Dunja Mijatovic, the Human Rights Commissioner at the Council of Europe, also expressed concern, telling Greek ministers earlier in the year that she feared the camps would result in long-term deprivation of liberty.
At the height of the so-called refugee crisis in 2015, about one million migrants and refugees crossed over to the Greek Islands, risking life and limb. According to the most recent UN estimates, there are currently just short of 100,000 refugees and migrants in Greece.
With Reuters, AFP