The number of migrants and refugees living on the Greek Islands was 79% lower in December 2021 compared to a year before, according to the Greek government. Meanwhile, the migrant and refugee population in all of Greece fell by 49%.
These figures were among the latest data on migrants and refugees published by Greece's government on Thursday (January 27).
The number of potential asylum seekers who arrived in Greeve in 2021 was reduced by 58% on the islands and by 41% in total, compared to 2020, according to the figures released by the government.
In December 2020, a total of 64,627 asylum seekers reportedly resided in all migrants centers managed or supervised by the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum, while as of December 2021, 32,647 resided in them.
3,508 migrants and refugees on Greek Islands
On the Greek Islands, the largest decrease in the migrant and refugee population between December 2021 and December 2020 was recorded on Leros (96%), followed by Samos and Chios (each 88%), Lesbos (78%), and Kos (34%).
The number of migrants living on the North Aegean Greek Islands -- the Greek islands where most migrants and refugees arrive after crossing from Turkey in small boats -- in December 2021 was 3,508.
Refugees and migrants reportedly made up only 1.36% of the population on the North Aegean islands in December 2021. A year before, that number was 7.67%.
Praise from Greek migration minister
The Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, made the following statement: "Two years ago we aimed to reduce the flows of people coming into the country and the effects of the migration crisis, in the local communities. Today, two years later, the tangible results of this policy allow us to look our citizens in the eyes."
Mitarachi added: "Both on the islands and on the mainland we have closed 86 migrant centers and the existing ones operate at half capacity. In 2022, we are now focusing on the big cities, Athens and Thessaloniki."
Discrepancies in data from Greek government
In recent weeks, there have been media reports about discrepancies in migration data shared by Greek government sources. Swiss newspaper NZZ revealed that the number of migrants registered as arriving in 2021 by the Greek government did not match the number of people supposedly rescued by the Greek coast guard.
Because of its location, Greece has been among the EU countries with the largest numbers of migrant and refugee arrivals in the past few years. The southeast European nation is located across the Aegean Sea from Turkey and also shares a land border with Turkey, which hosts a large number of Syrian and Afghan refugees.
Since Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis formed a center-right government in mid-2019, Greece has introduced a number of in the wake of tougher asylum and border security measures. Many of the previous "open" migrant reception camps have been -- or are set to be -- replaced by so-called "closed and controlled access" centers.
Rules introduced by the government in the fall of 2021 have kept thousands from accessing services such as food provisions.
Greek border guards have also been repeatedly accused of pushing back migrants in the Aegean.