Migrant landings increase, Greek islands look for solutions

Migrant landings increase, Greek islands look for solutions

As migrant flows to Greece from Turkey are on a hike, central and local authorities try their best, in order to improve the living conditions in certain island hotspots.

As a result, they transfer migrants from the NE Greek island to other locations in Greece, because facilities that could take up to 2,500 people maximum, were hosting even more than 5,000.

Right now, the greatest problem is seen in Moria, Lesbos, where the capacity of the camp is exceeded by far. In the middle of this week, during a televised interview with Greek TV station “SKAI”, the Regional Governor of the North Aegean, based on the island of Lesbos, Christiana Kalogirou, was saying that there were about 7,000 immigrants and refugees on Lesbos. A number, that at least to Greeks and more particularly to islanders, brings to mind moments of two years ago. Back then, mainly N. Aegean islands near the Turkish shores –a key-detail as it makes it easier for dinghies to cross the waters from Turkey and reach Greece- were swamped with migrants.

Until today, almost 300 persons have been transferred from Moria to other centres in the country, while another 1,500 are expected to be moved from Lesbos by the end of October.

ANA-MPA reports that the ongoing transfer “was decided during the visit to the island of Migration Secretaries General Miltiadis Klapas and Andreas Gougoulis.”

“Eleftherios Venizelos” boat arrives at Piraeus port carrying migrants and refugees from the islands, August 2015

What has been causing the anomaly is not just the sudden surge in flows but most importantly the management and handling of the asylum applications. This has always been the great problem, with Greek authorities working on this, saying there are not enough people for the job.

So, at present, migrants and refugees waiting for their applications to be either approved or disapproved are nearly 7,500 people on Lesbos only. “A record number of people following the European Union-Turkey agreement of March 2016.”

Moria on Lesbos and VIAL hotspot on Chios host so many individuals, that tents overflow the space, with new arrivals sleeping outside the camps due to lack of space inside.

Moria camp, Lesbos, January 2017

Even though high officials expected that the severity of the issue would decrease, at the moment things look grim again. Apparently, the need for extra room is so great and of vital importance, that “The Asylum Service, which uses a large part of the centre (in Moria), is expected to vacate the premises and move to another building off-site. Their move will free up enough space for another 500 people.”

Both islands mentioned above keep having new arrivals this period, not only because of the creation of new-migrant waves due to ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and some Asian countries but because of the good weather, too. Calm seas make the crossings “bloodless”.

People flee Mosul, Iraq – December 2016

The numbers, the islands and the response

On Thursday, about 120 migrants arrived at the shores of Lesbos, while another 234 got to Chios and Inousses (near Chios) in four boats, according to exclusive IBNA sources.

On Friday and until the moment this article was written, two more dinghies had made it to Chios, carrying 140 persons.

Souda camp, Chios, Spring 2017. Tents outside the camp, on the shore

Moreover, IBNA sources say that 64 migrants out of those who reached Chios on Thursday and the 140 of Friday, October 20, have not been examined by a doctor yet. A procedure that according to past protocols was a must. Before, Women and Health Alliance International (WAHA) medical staff was responsible for those checks, but stopped actions on Chios, after the Spring of 2017. Many of them, remain at the Port building in the city centre as they are still unregistered. Usually, the Spanish Humanitarian Maritime Rescue Association (SMH in Spanish) is at landings and also goes to Chios port to help the newcomers. This time, however, the SMH is nowhere to be seen, at least until now, as sources told IBNA. Instead, the locally-based Chios Eastern Shore Response Team (CESRT), staffed with local and international volunteers, have offered Non Food Items (NFI) to those who arrived yesterday and today.

Overall, 2,263 individuals arrived in the North Aegean in the month of October, nearly double the arrivals of 2016 in the same month.

According to Chios port authorities, 645 individuals arrived on the island in October 2016 whereas, until October 20 2017, the number is 970.

The island of Samos, also in the NE Aegean and opposite Kusadasi, in Turkey, faces the same problems too…/IBNA

Photos: Lida Filippakis