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Refugee, Migrant Arrivals Drop in Greece, But Asylum Requests Jump

Αssociated Press

FILE- A migrant holds stones as Turkish special police officers patrol by the fence on the Turkish-Greek border in Pazarkule, Turkey, Saturday, March 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

ATHENS – The COVID-19 pandemic has seen the number of refugees and migrants Turkey allows human traffickers to send to Greece drop, but applications for asylum went up as the European Union kept its borders closed to them.

With Greece holding more than 100,000 people, including more than 34,000 on five islands near Turkey's coast, there are 98,279 sanctuary decisions still pending, some on hold for two year or more, causing frustration and violence in camps and centers.

The number of arrivals, especially on the islands, usually goes up in the summer with the better weather making it less risky to cross the Aegean from Turkey, the waters patrolled by the Greek Coast Guard and the EU border patrol Frontex.

With more being moved to the mainland, the numbers are dropping in the island camps but conditions are still said to be inhumane, activists and human rights continue to complain to deaf ears from the New Democracy government.

The crisis began in 2015 during Syria's civil war and saw more than a million people fleeing their homelands, going to Turkey as a jumping off point to reach the EU, mostly through Greece, before other countries shut out refugees and migrants.

A March, 2016 swap deal with the EU has been essentially suspended, with Turkey allowing the human smugglers to continue operating and with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan trying to get 10,000 to cross the northern land border earlier this year before they were stopped by Greek riot police and Army units.

From May to June, only 1,300 people arrived on islands, a huge drop from previous years, mostly due to fears of the pandemic. Only eight people arrived on Samos, while Chios, Leros and Kos had zero arrivals. In the same period last year 12,911 asylum seekers arrived on islands with reception centers and camps, said Kathimerini.