People at the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece, 05 December 2021 | Phohto: ANSA / ALESSANDRO DI MEO
People at the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece, 05 December 2021 | Phohto: ANSA / ALESSANDRO DI MEO

After the long crisis following the 2015 migration emergency, life for citizens on the Greek island of Lesbos is "back to normal" and the major issues related to refugees is past, according to Greece's Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi.

Greece's Minister of Migration, Notis Mitarachi, said life is "back to normal" for locals on the island of Lesbos, claiming that the major refugee issues are behind them thanks to the government's efforts.

Mitarachi paid an extensive visit to the North East Aegean island on Thursday (February 9), which was recently in the headlines again for tragic reasons with a shipwreck taking the lives of three people, to get an update on the status of projects financed by the Solidarity Fund.

Lesbos has been one of Greece's migration "hotspots" since the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, given its close proximity to the Turkish coast, and the island has been in the media spotlight on countless occasions, with lots of upheaval and social problems taking place over the last eight years.

During his visit, Mitarachi told reporters: "Immigration is no longer a major problem that concerns the island's residents. I think, now, the reduced numbers, the results speak for themselves. Lesbos is now clearly back to normal."

'Period of narmality' -- Lesbos mayor

Mitarachi toured the area of Afalona, specifically an area which was used for housing refugees and migrants but was eventually given to the municipality of Lesbos and turned into a stadium. Then, he visited a playground that was built in Chrysomallousa area, Mavrovouni, where he inspected the Closed and Controlled Reception Center (RIC).

Finally, he had a working meeting with the Mayor of Lesbos, Stratis Kytelis, with whom they took stock of the financing of the Solidarity Fund to the municipality. For his part, the mayor of Lesbos added: "Our island is now entering a period of normality and we are now entering a development phase. Local citizens now have a feeling of security so that we can march forward together and now give our island another perspective and an impetus, which will give it the global glamor and culture that our island deserves."

In the context of the support of local communities that contribute to the management of migration, the Municipality of Lesbos has received a total of €22.2 million, of which €10.4 million concern the financing of 20 infrastructure projects through the Solidarity Fund, €5 million of extraordinary grants-compensations, and €6,7 million concerning uniform municipal fees.

More people rescued as arrivals increase

Despite all the positive messages coming from the government on how their policies have seen the reduction of asylum seeker and migrant populations on the Aegean islands and generally across Greece, boats continue to attempt to enter the country and last week's tragedy on Lesbos was the third shipwreck in the space of a week as midwinter arrivals of migrants increased.

At the time of writing, Greece's coast guard said that it rescued seven more migrants who were still at sea after Tuesday's shipwreck that claimed the lives of three individuals.

According to the coast guard quoting survivors, 41 people were said to be on board the rubber boat that had departed from Turkey.

According to reports by state television channel ERT, the migrants were from Somalia, Yemen and Syria.

Figures for December, January show increase in migrant arrivals

The latest three shipwrecks came after the Greek government released figures showing a huge increase in the arrivals of migrants to the country year on year -- to the tune of 96%.

In addition, there has been an increase in migrant arrivals in the last two months despite the freezing wintry weather conditions which make the crossing even more difficult and dangerous.

Data released by the Migration Ministry attribute the increase to the activation of smuggling rings as recent arrests by authorities suggest. In total, 2,800 people arrived in December and 2,600 in January, including 1,300 on the islands.

According to the figures, a total of about 4,600 people remain in the reception and identification centers on the islands.

Lesbos is hosting 1,869 people and Chios has 327. There are also 905 on Samos, 387 on Leros and 1,048 on Kos.


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