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After Deadly Fire, Greece to Move Migrants From Packed Camps

After Deadly Fire, Greece to Move Migrants From Packed Camps

Monday, 30 September, 2019 - 13:00
Refugees and migrants gather at Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, on September 30, 2019, follwing a fire at the refugee camp which houses some 13,000 people. ( AFP / ANGELOS TZORTZINIS)

Greece's conservative government is expected to accelerate efforts to move thousands of refugees and migrants from its eastern islands to the mainland following a deadly fire at the country's largest camp on the island of Lesbos.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis chaired a cabinet meeting Monday, a day after a fire at the Moria refugee camp on left Lesbos one woman dead and 17 injured. More than 12,000 people are housed in the camp and around its perimeter. That is four times the site's capacity.

Government officials have already announced their intention to expand a mainland network of camps, speed up asylum reviews and restart summary deportations to Turkey for asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected.

The Deputy Minister of Citizen Protection Lefteris Economou, along with the Chief of Police and the Secretary-General for Migration Policy, were due to visit Moria on Monday. The government aims to move at least 3,000 people from its islands to the mainland by the end of October, the official said.

Moving asylum seekers from island camps to the mainland is not a new policy. It was announced by the conservative government last month as part of measures intended to deal with a resurgence in refugee and migrant flows from neighboring Turkey.

More than 9,000 people arrived in Greece in August, the highest number in the three years since the European Union and Ankara implemented a deal to shut off the Aegean migrant route. More than 8,000 people have arrived in September, according to the UNHCR.

Nearly a million refugees, many of them fleeing war in Syria, crossed from Turkey to Greece's eastern Aegean islands in 2015. Human rights groups have long criticized the poor conditions at the refugee camps.

Greece hosts some 70,000 mostly Syrian refugees and migrants who have fled their countries since 2015, crossing over from neighboring Turkey.

Under an agreement reached with the European Union in 2016, Turkey has made greater efforts to limit departures towards the five Greek islands closest to its shores.

But the number of arrivals has been steadily climbing in recent months causing a dangerous burden in the camps of the islands that are in the forefront of the migrant influx.

The Greek government said Sunday it planned to discuss a new asylum draft law to deal with the fresh migrant crisis.

Minister of State George Gerapetritis stressed Sunday that migrants should be sent to camps with humane conditions, admitting that existing ones were not able to deal with the increase in migrants.

Friday, Citizen's Protection Minister, Michalis Chrysochoidis, asked for the cooperation of regional governors, during an emergency meeting, in order to share the migrant burden of the overcrowded islands.

He called on regional authorities of mainland Greece to expand existing camps or to revive some closed ones.

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