COVID-19 Pandemic Saw Refugee, Migrant Arrivals Plunge in Greece

ATHENS – Another side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic was the reluctance of refugees and migrants to come to Greece from Turkey where they had first gone, arrivals plummeting in 2020.

That was according to numbers in the annual report from the Migration Ministry presented to Parliament by its chief, Notis Mitarakis, a 25-page document indicating data from all the agencies handling migration, including refugee reception centers and the asylum service, said Kathimerini.

It showed arrivals dropped most – 87 percent on five islands near Turkey’s coast and 62 percent at the land border along the Evros River where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan almost a year ago sent 10,000 and urged them to cross before they were stymied by riot police and army units.

The Asylum Service issued some 106,000 decisions last year, of which 33 percent concerned refugee status approvals, undecided cases falling 43 percent but some 80,000 decisions still pending from nearly 100,000 applications.

The ministry said it will clear them by the end of the year without revealing how that could happen as it hadn’t been able to deal with the numbers since the crisis began almost six years ago.

The number of refugees and migrants accommodated in various housing facilities throughout the country was reduced from 93,000 to 65,000 last year, after the government closed 57 hotels in 2020. Another three such hosting facilities have been closed so far this year, Mitarakis said.

Under an essentially-suspended swap deal with the European Union, Turkey is supposed to contain 4.4 million refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, primarily Syria and Afghanistan.

But Turkey had allowed human traffickers to keep sending them, although in lesser amounts after a 2016 agreement, with the Greek islands the preferred destination, people crossing in rubber dinghies and rickety craft, many drowning along the way when boats capsized.

A total of 2,565 migrants returned voluntarily to their countries from Greece in 2020

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), in cooperation with Greek and consular authorities, supported the voluntary return of 2,565 migrants from Greece to their countries in 2020, an announcement said on Tuesday.

The beneficiaries of the IOM programme returned to 46 countries, with the largest number of migrants (734) returning to Pakistan, followed by Georgia (529), Iraq (489), Afghanistan (188) and Iran (163). Thirty percent of the migrants were men aged between 22 and 29.

In the midst of the difficulties and challenges imposed by the pandemic last year, including the restriction of movement and the closed borders, many migrants living in Greece expressed interest in making a voluntarily return to their native countries, IOM said.

The number of returns due to COVID-19 restrictions was 868 in the first quarter of 2020 and 300 every month until the end of the year. Since 2010, the year that the voluntary return programme was launched in Greece, IOM has helped over 50,000 people voluntarily return to their own countries.



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