Migrants at the closed camp for asylum seekers in Samos, Greece | Photo: ARCHIVE/EPA/MICHAEL SVARNIAS
Migrants at the closed camp for asylum seekers in Samos, Greece | Photo: ARCHIVE/EPA/MICHAEL SVARNIAS

The number of migrants and refugees in Greece has dropped significantly over the past year despite a year-on-year increase measured in the first two months of 2023.

Refugee and migrant populations in Greece have plummeted by more than half compared to last year, according to the latest figures announced by Greek authorities.

The government's March 2023 Migration Newsletter reported an overall reduction of 53% as well as a 49% fall in arrivals month on month.

However, the government is still monitoring the situation closely, as there also was a significant increase in arrivals in the first two months of 2023 compared with the same period in 2022. In total, the rise in arrival numbers for January and February 2023 came to 167% compared with the same period in 2022.

The Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum said that currently, "a total of 13,798 people seeking asylum resided in the country in February 2023, compared to 29,071 in February 2022.

"The decrease, which shows a steady downward trend despite the larger number of arrivals [at the beginning of] this year ... amounts to 53%."

The ministry further highlighted that of the total number of migrant residents in Greece, 4,438 people were residing on the Greek islands, marking a decrease of 8% compared to January, while 9,622 asylum seekers were residing on the mainland, which was 5% less compared to January 2023."

Shifting asylum trends

According to the government figures, there is also a 35% decrease in migrant staying at official accommodation facilities and a 54% increase in those staying at arrival centers on the Greek islands, compared to figures from a year ago. Notable, there is also a 75% decrease in those held in detention centers.

The latest statistics also show a decrease in asylum requests submitted, which drooped to 2,912 for February 2023; 82% of those applications were initial requests, marking a 30.5% decrease in overall applications compared to January 2023. The number of asylum requests filed by unaccompanied minors also underwent a decrease, dropping by 42% compared to January 2023.

"The government has implemented a strict but fair immigration policy since 2019. We reduced the flows by 90% and this ultimately also had an impact on the labor market because many of those who entered our country illegally were also working illegally," said Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis.

In the first two months of 2023, the majority of asylum seekers came from Afghanistan (13.8%), Pakistan (13.0%), the Palestinian Territories (10.1%), Syria (7.3%) and Egypt (6.0%).

Of all asylum requests submitted in the first two months of 2023, 76% were filed by men and 24% by women.

Liberalizing agriculture-related migration

In a related development, third-country migrants working on Greek farms will soon have their residence permits extended until the end of the year in a move announced by Mitarakis in parliament.

Mitarakis said that a clause for the extension to December 31 will be tabled in parliament this week. It will primarily concern migrants who arrive in Greece by land, and will tie in with the new migration code that will go into effect on January 1, 2024, which sets out regulations for attracting non-permanent field workers from third countries.

The move comes in response to a shortage of farm workers, which also involves bilateral agreements with the governments of Bangladesh and Egypt to bring in seasonal workers.


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