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Greece plans to close refugee camps

November 20, 2019

Greece has said it will close camps, replacing them with restrictive holding centers. The government said it would tighten border controls and clear bottlenecks in asylum vetting procedures.

Refugees and migrants arrive near Athens, Greece
Image: Reuters/C. Baltas

Greece announced plans to close a number of refugee camps on Wednesday as part of efforts to deter asylum seekers from coming to the country.

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said: "A clear message should be sent to those planning, or thinking of coming to the country illegally when they aren't entitled to asylum."

Read more: Greek nationalists' pork-and-booze barbecue targets Muslim refugees

"They should realize ... if they give money to a trafficker to bring them to Greece they will lose it."

The refugee camps in question are built on a number of Greek islands and the government, which assumed power in July this year, has been concerned about the ease of refugees reaching the mainland.

Petsas said authorities would construct "closed pre-departure centers," which would make it easier to monitor the movements of asylum seekers and stop them from making their way to the mainland undetected.

Illegal deportations

Greece has come under increasing criticism recently in how it deals with migrants. Just last week, German magazine Spiegel reported that almost 60,000 migrants were illegally deported  to Turkey between 2017 and 2018.

Living conditions for some 37,000 people in the camps have been decried by aid groups as appalling.

Camps on the islands of Lesbos and four others in the eastern Aegean Sea are enduring serious overcrowding, with hundreds of families sleeping in tents, often in poor sanitary conditions.

Lesbos, Greece
Women outside their tents at a makeshift camp for refugees and migrants next to the notorious Moria camp, shortly after a rainfall on the island of LesbosImage: Reuters/E. Marcou

"In the short term, we will return security and control to the areas affected by the crisis," Stefanis said of the plans which will be implemented from January 1 2020.

Read more: Merkel's Syrian refugee stance reflects spirit of integrating East Germany

"Normal life will return to these areas and measures will be taken to safeguard them from future threats, with an emphasis placed on deterrence."

The planned changes are the most significant since a landmark deal in 2016 between Turkey and the European Union to limit migration to Europe.

The main goal of the deal was to prevent migrants from attempting the potentially fatal crossing from Turkey and to curtail human trafficking. Although the deal worked at its outset, the recent influx of refugees coming to the Greek islands and renewed threats by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to "open the gates" are of concern to EU member states, notably Greece.

The planned closures include the notorious Moria camp on the island of Lesbos. Designated to accommodate roughly 3,000 people, up to 15,000 people are currently living there.

jsi/aw (AP, Reuters)

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