Crisis Back, Migrants, Refugees Moved Off Lesbos: Another 125 Land

A migrant girl stands at the fence of the port of Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

In a kind of Sisyphus-like effect of losing while gaining, as Greece moved hundreds of refugees and migrants off the island of Lesbos to the mainland to relieve overcrowding in detention centers and camps, 125 more landed, the numbers picking up again.

A ship carrying 722 people docked in Thessaloniki on Sept. 2, said Kathimerini and media reports, with more set to arrive on Sept. 3, taking them off the island, another 300 set to be moved to the country’s second-largest city.

The asylum seekers are to be housed in facilities in Nea Kavala and other parts of the northern mainland. There are more than 22,700 on islands, sent there by human traffickers that Turkey lets operate during an essentially suspended swap deal with the European Union but with the New Democracy government saying asylum applications will be processed faster and those deemed ineligible will be returned to Turkey.

They had first gone there, fleeing war and strife and economic misery in their countries, primarily from the Middle East, in hopes of using Greece as a jumping off point to reach ore prosperous countries before the European Union shut its borders to them.

Greek officials said they wanted to move 1,400 people out of the overcrowded Moria camp on Lesbos where tensions have been growing in recent weeks and and a 15-year-old Afghan boy was stabbed to death amid frequent violence between ethnic groups and riot police.

The facility has been housing more than 10,000 people, nearly four times its maximum capacity and had been called “the worst in the world” by the BBC on a visit when Greece was under the rule of the deposed Radical Left SYRIZA.

More transfers are expected although it technically violates terms of the swap deal with Turkey, with worries that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at odds with the EU over his country’s drilling for energy off Cyprus, will flood Greek islands with more.

The next transfers are scheduled to come from other islands, the paper said, most likely from Samos, where conditions at the Vathy facility are said to be even worse than Moria, or from Chios after SYRIZA ignored entreaties from island officials for help.

The relocation of migrants from island camps is one of a series of emergency measures decided on by a government council following the arrival of more than 500 people on Aug. 29, the largest number in one day since the peak of the refugee crisis in 2016, the new government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis acting quickly, unlike SYRIZA.

In addition to relocations from the islands, border patrols will be stepped up at sea and on the border with Turkey near the perilous Evros River, and police presence will be increased at camps and centers on the islands and mainland, with Greece dealing with more than 75,000 refugees and migrants after the EU closed its borders to them.

The government also said there no longer be appeals allowed for denied asylum applications, sending some of those rejected into hiding and human rights groups accusing Greece of breaking the laws of the country and the EU, but they were ignored.