Karolina Tagaris, Reuters, June 18, 2021
With walled camps and tougher border controls, Greece is hardening its approach ahead of summer when migrant arrivals pick up, defying criticism from aid groups and saying it has little choice given a lack of support from the rest of Europe.
The squalid conditions facing many asylum-seekers were laid bare last year when a fire devastated the sprawling Moria camp on Lesbos, and Greece has denied repeated accusations that its coast guard vessels have pushed back migrant boats as they entered Greek waters from Turkey.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi says the government is taking a tougher approach “so we don’t send the wrong message of incentivizing people to come” to Greece.
Greece was the frontline of Europe’s migration crisis in 2015, when a million refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan landed. The numbers have slowed sharply since, but Greece says it is still left shouldering much of the burden.
In addition to fencing off camps, Greece launched an EU-wide tender in June to build two closed-type facilities on the islands of Samos and Lesbos, where the former occupants of Moria are housed on an abandoned army firing range.
Greece has been pushing EU countries for support over a proposed overhaul of EU migration rules. While EU funds are easing some of the burden, there is a lack of solidarity, Mitarachi said.
“We still feel we are alone – Greece, Italy, Spain, Malta and Cyprus, the five Mediterranean countries – in tackling the pressures from migration.”
Greece says its policies are bearing fruit. In the months through May, there were more returns than arrivals and flows were down 68%, the migration ministry said. The number of people in camps was down 71% since last May.