The crisis that Greece is facing in terms of accommodating asylum seekers shows little sign of abating. Attempts are being made to alleviate the situation, but critics say too little is being done and efforts are too slow.
Greece's ongoing migrant crisis shows no signs of abating in the new year. Efforts to speed up the transfer of people from overcrowded island camps is painstakingly slow, as are initiatives to improve living conditions for the winter season.
Reception centers for refugees and migrants on the eastern Aegean islands are struggling to cope with the huge number of people staying in often already squalid conditions. They are also ill-prepared for the increasingly cold weather. Attempts by NGOs and charities to make improvements are being hampered by continued resistance from locals towards expanding facilities in order to accommodate hundreds of new arrivals, who come from neighboring Turkey.
UN pleads with Greek government
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has made an impassioned appeal to the Greek government to urgently boost refugee and migrant transfers from the Aegean islands to the mainland. "Conditions on the Greek islands are getting worse, making life miserable for thousands of people," Grandi said on Twitter. "More inland transport [of people] is urgently needed."
Grandi's message comes just two weeks after the UNHCR reported that an estimated 10,000 asylum seekers remain stranded at overcrowded government structures on the islands - despite the fact that about 6,000 had been moved out since mid-October. The UN pointed out that the reception centers are "full of rubbish and are improvised accommodation that offers little insulation against winter weather."
Little has changed unfortunately, and the problem has worsened since 507 refugees and migrants landed on the shores of the northern Aegean islands in the first week of January.
New centers for minors
However, there has been some positive news with the announcement that several unused buildings in the Attica region, as well as in Magnesia in central Greece, are to be transformed into reception centers for unaccompanied minors who have applied for asylum in Greece.
According to the latest official figures, there are currently an estimated 3,300 unaccompanied minors in Greece, with only 1,104 of those living in accommodation that is deemed appropriate. These centers previously belonged to the general secretariat for social solidarity of the labor ministry. Greece's defense ministry has been given the task of renovating the buildings, following a joint-ministerial decision signed in late December just before Christmas.