ATHENS – After delays that had officials and residents of islands furious, work on building new migrant detention centers will begin in March, places aimed at sorting out those not eligible for asylum.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said the new facilities on eastern Aegean islands near Turkey should be ready to begin operation in the summer, the time when there could be another surge in arrivals.
Turkey is letting human traffickers keep sending refugees and migrants to Greek island during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union. They had gone to Turkey fleeing war and strife in their homelands in hopes of reaching more prosperous countries before the EU closed its doors to them.
That left only the option of being granted sanctuary in Greece which is overwhelmed with some 100,000 of them, including about 50,000 on islands where they have been penned up in overcrowded facilities that human rights groups said were not fit for humans.
Speaking on SKAI TV, Mitarakis said that the new facilities, which are designed to replace existing hotspots like the notorious Moria camp on Lesbos island, will speed the return to Turkey of those who don’t get asylum although only about 2,000 have been deported so far.
The New Democracy government is proceeding despite protests from island officials and residents on Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos who want the refugees and migrants moved to the mainland, weary of dealing with them for almost five years.
Mitarakis said that Afghan asylum-seekers on the Greek islands currently outnumber those from Syria’s civil war,
He said the new centers will be designed to accommodate a total of 20,000 asylum-seekers for a maximum of three months. He said the government aims to raise the number of weekly returns to 200 and that Turkey indicated it would cooperate although President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to flood the EU with millions more.
The government said a presidential decree will also allow the Migration Ministry to seize properties to manage the refugee and migrant crisis.