ATHENS – “So far, we have no coronavirus cases in refugee and migrant accommodation centres across the country,” Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi reassured parliament on Thursday.
Mitarachi said that new arrivals have been kept apart from existing populations, with those who entered the country after March 1 going to special facilities where they were tested. He added that movements in and out of asylum-seeker facilities have been restricted. “They are only allowed out to shop at certain hours, while people are informed in languages they understand,” the minister explained.
On the issue of decongesting refugee-migrant facilities on the islands, Mitarachi noted that more than half of their residents will leave in 2020. According to him, there are currently 42,000 residents of migrant and refugee accommodation on the islands. The capacity of the new facilities that are to replace them is for fewer than 20,000, so more than half will be leaving the islands within 2020. As for where they will go, he referred to the government’s amendment to free up 11,000 places in facilities on the mainland, which are currently occupied by persons who are not eligible for them under international treaties. By speeding up the asylum process, he added, “people are leaving existing facilities and increasing capacity.”
At the same time, Mitarachi reiterated that more facilities will be created where necessary, in cooperation with the local authorities. He also announced the completion of 10,000 transfers in the first quarter of 2020. “At the end of March, [migrants and refugees] living on the islands will be fewer than in December 2019,” he said.
The minister also referred to an initiative launched by Alternate Migration and Asylum Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos, under which Greece has received EU approval and funding for 5,000 voluntary departures “and we plan further departures for the second quarter of 2020.”