Mayors of three Greek islands who are most affected by overcrowded migrant camps led more protests and demanded the transfer of thousands of migrants to the country’s mainland.
During the second day of demonstrations over the plight of the camps and the government’s plans to replace them with holding centers, the mayors of Lesvos, Samos, and Chios pressed for a quick resolution to the problem.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said after a meeting in Athens that the concerns were justified as the migrant crisis has placed a heavy burden on island communities.
“Our priorities include the decongestion of islands, the reduction of migrant inflows, their (migrants’) return to Turkey and trust-building measures between the central government and the islands,” Mitarachi told reporters.
On Wednesday island shops remained shut and public services disrupted by a walkout as part of the protest.
“Anxiety and indignation” of residents of islands at the forefront of a continuing migration crisis are justified, and he vowed measures to address an increased number of arriving migrant,” says Mitarachi.
“Our country is indeed dealing with a migration crisis, and increased migration flows in 2019” put pressure on local communities, he added.
Greece has been the first point of entry into the European Union for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war or poverty at home, with most arriving on eastern Aegean islands from nearby Turkey.
Mitarakis said the government and the island's officials agreed on current priorities, which are to reduce the number of new arrivals, ease overcrowding in the camps, speed up returns to Turkey, improve the asylum process and improve healthcare facilities on the islands.
“We agree on the need for there to be closed pre-departure facilities, we disagree on the size and the method of operation,” Mitarakis said.
The minister added he would be meeting the mayors and regional governor every two weeks.
*Source: Reuters and AP
*Image credit:REUTERS/Elias Marcou