ATHENS – After saying it wouldn’t happen, Greece’s ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition has agreed to let several hundred asylum seekers be transferred from a detention camp on the island of Lesbos to the mainland.
There are some 14,000 refugees and migrants on Greek islands, sent there by human traffickers that Turkey allows to operate during a suspended European Union swap deal that saw Europe close its borders and dump the problem on Greece during a crushing 7 ½-year-long economic and austerity crisis.
Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas had barred the transfers to the mainland, where another 50,000 have been held for up to two years and more, because he said it would violate the EU deal with Turkey but has been under pressure from island officials and even dissidents in his own party over his handling of the crisis.
“I came to heaven from hell,” 30-year old Mohammad Firuz, who lived for two months in a state-run camp on Lesbos told the news agency Reuters. He was among 300 people, many of them women and children, aboard a ferry that reached the port of Piraeus early Nov. 30.
The asylum seekers would be taken to camps and apartments in the mainland, authorities said.
Lesbos, close to Turkey and the favored destination of asylum seekers, most from the war-torn country of Syria, but tension has been growing in overcrowded camps on Greek islands, mostly over delays in processing asylum applications.
Lesbos residents went on strike earlier this month to protest against European policies they say have turned it into a “prison” for migrants and refugees as the government continued to ignore their pleas.