Children at the Reception and Identification Center in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece | Photo: Alessandr Di Meo / ANSA
Children at the Reception and Identification Center in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece | Photo: Alessandr Di Meo / ANSA

Greece has announced that new hotspots for asylum seekers on the islands of Lesbos and Chios are set to open in February and April of next year. Greek authorities are also expanding a hotspot near the Evros river on Greece's land border with Turkey.

The Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, announced on Monday (September 26) that his ministry aims to open two new hotspots in early 2023.

In February 2023, the new shelter hotspot on the isle of Lesbos -- currently used as accommodation and as a place to carry out identity verification procedures -- will open for asylum seekers, according to Mitarachi.

The ministry also aims to make the Chios hotspot -- which is still under construction -- operational by April 2023, the minister said.

Closed camps on five Aegean islands

This would bring the number of new, closed reception facilities on the Aegean island where migrants and refugees will undergo identification procedures to five -- following the opening of centers on Samos in September 2021 and Kos and Leros late last year.

Several NGOs have criticized these new camps due to their closed nature -- MSF last year called them "prison-like" due to the restrictions placed on residents' ability to leave the center and heavy security measures, including barbed wired fencing. At the Samos facility, there is an 8pm curfew and to enter or exit, residents need an "asylum applicant" card, which some people, such as those who cannot afford a second subsequent asylum application fee (which costs €100), do not have.

Controversy surrounding Lesbos migrant accommodation

The Greek government announced plans to build a new facility on Lesbos -- the Aegean island that has seen the largest number of refugee and migrant arrivals in recent years -- after a large fire broke out at the notoriously overcrowded Moria camp on the island in September 2020.

The new facility is located in the inner part of the island, in the area of Vastria, approximately 30 kilometers north of the island's capital, Mytilene. Construction there has proceeded sluggishly, and been met with resistance by parts of the local population.

The makeshift camp that replaced Moria has been repeatedly criticized by its residents and human rights organizations -- and is still not seen as particularly hospitable after several improvements to its infrastructure.

Evros land border region: Expansion of reception center

Mitarachi on Monday also announced that by the end of 2022, an expansion to the shelter for migrants and refugees near the Turkish border in the Evros river region would be completed.

The Evros border region has seen a large number of migrants and refugees arrive recently -- there have also been allegations that Greek officials carry out pushbacks in the region.

More migrants and refugees arrived in 2022

During his press conference, Mitarachi also said that the number of migrants and refugees who arrived in Greece so far this year has already exceeded the number of arrivals for all of last year. In 2021, only 8,745 foreigners irregularly crossed into Greece, while so far in 2022, the number of non-Ukrainian foreigners who arrived in Greece irregularly was already 10,270, according to the minister.

Mitarachi also criticized what he perceives to be a lack of solidarity from other European countries with countries located on the outer border of the European Union (EU) seeing a large number of migrants and refugees arrive.

"Many governments in all of Europe, unfortunately, are more interested in protecting themselves against secondary flows than in solidarity with host countries", he said on Twitter. According to Mitarachi, an estimated 160,000 migrants and refugees arrived in the EU so far in 2022, but only 1,017 persons were officially relocated from first countries of entry to other countries.


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