Arrivals to Greece have dropped significantly from almost 75,000 in 2019 to less than 16,000 in 2020. Conditions in the so-called Moria 2.0 camp on Lesvos continue to deteriorate. Local opposition to government camp policies while closure of alternative accommodation continues. Medical capacity at pre-removal centres less than minimal.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) sea and land arrivals to Greece have decreased from 74,613 in 2019 to just 15,669 in 2020 – a year where evidence of systematic pushbacks from Greece to Turkey has continued to mount. However, the general situation for asylum seekers and refugees in Greece remains dire.

Already harsh conditions in the so-called Moria 2.0 on Lesvos continue to deteriorate with large parts of the camp flooded by water, sewage and mud, tents and portable toilets swept away by winds, the skin of residents dissolving after weeks of being wet and temperatures set to drop below zero and forecast of extreme weather over the weekend. The camp houses 2,664 children, of whom 1,865 are below the age of 12. Tougher lockdown restrictions have been announced on 12 January on the island of Lesvos following a spike in positive COVID cases.

Following an appeal by the Municipality of Chios to a local Court, to return the reception facility of VIAL as after two years the concession of the site to the Greek government expired, Migration Minister, Notis Mitarakis, has announced that the construction of a new closed camp for migrants on the eastern Aegean island will be accelerated. The minister stated that the new camp “should be operational” in 2021, while noting that VIAL will only close when the new facility is ready. Government plans to establish new larger Reception and Identification Centres (RIC) for asylum seekers on the Evros land border and the Aegean island of Leros have been met with strong objections from local authorities. The deputy governor of Evros, Dimitris Petrovic, stated that a planned increase of current reception capacity of 500 people to 1,500 could potentially lead to the creation of “a camp of migrants on the country’s borders”. The Municipal Authority of Leros has appealed to the Council of State to prevent the construction of a new structure on the island aimed to increase current reception capacity of 800 people to 2,000. Giorgos Giasimakis, the mayor of the municipality of Oropos North of Athens where the Malakasa camp is located, denounced government policies, stating: “I will continue to demand the removal of these structures from Malakasa, and at the same time, until this is done, will try to support the value of human life that knows no distinctions of color, ethnicity, religion”.

Despite local resistance, widespread overcrowding and harsh conditions in camps across Greece, the eradication by the Greek government of alternative accommodation to camps continues. The Filoxenia program, at its peak hosting an average of almost 7,000 people with priority given to vulnerable asylum seekers from the RIC on Greek islands, is set to close. 130 asylum seekers under the program housed at three hotels will be transferred in January to what local media refer to as other accommodation structures.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the systematic administrative detention of rejected asylum seekers continues and the medical capacity at the eight pre-removal detention centres across Greece is minimal, including one doctor for 877 detainees in Corinth.

The Greek government has filed a request to the European Commission and Frontex “for the immediate return” of 1.450 rejected asylum seekers from the Aegean islands to Turkey currently hosting 4 million refugees and asylum seekers. Only 139 returns took place in 2020 and none since March when Turkish authorities suspended returns under the EU Turkey agreement allegedly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Photo: ECRE

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.