Greece to speed up creation of migrant holding centres to ease tension

FILE PHOTO: Riot police stand guard as refugees and migrants demonstrate outside the municipal theatre of the city of Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, February 4, 2020. REUTERS/Elias Marcou

Greece plans to accelerate the creation of detention centres on its outlying islands in the Aegean Sea after a backlash against overcrowded camps by some migrants and nearby residents.

Authorities said on Monday they would proceed with the purchase of land on the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos, and press ahead with plans to create holding facilities on state-owned land on Kos and Leros.

Thousands of migrants are waiting on the islands for their asylum applications to be processed, most of them in overcrowded camps known as reception centres.

FILE PHOTO: A woman carries bottles of water during heavy rainfall at a temporary camp for refugees and migrants next to the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Elias Marcou/File Photo

Migrants on the island of Lesbos protested last week against poor living conditions and residents of the island took to the streets demanding the reception facilities close.

“The government has decided to close today’s anarchic facilities and create controlled, closed facilities,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said in a statement.

Hundreds of thousands of people crossed into Europe from Turkey via Greece in 2015 and 2016, until an deal brokered by the European Union limited the flow. There has been a resurgence in arrivals since around September 2019.

Greece’s conservative New Democracy government, elected last July, has taken a tougher stance towards migration than Syriza, the leftist party that led the previous government.

The government has introduced new regulations which it says will simplify the asylum process and launched a tender for a floating fence in the Aegean which it hopes will deter migrants arriving from Turkey on rafts.

The new detention centres would house new arrivals until their asylum processes were underway, as well as others showing “delinquent behaviour” or not entitled to asylum, Petsas said.

Entering and leaving the facilities would be strictly regulated and they would be closed at night, he added.