KOS – Under a stricter policy, Greece’s New Democracy government has opened two more refugee detention centers on islands – on Leros and Kos – which are so-called “closed” because it keeps people confined.
European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, from Greece’s ruling New Democracy, called it an “historic day,” although his agency is supposed to be neutral in dealing with refugee and migrant matters across the bloc.
“The new modern and multipurpose reception and identification centers that we inaugurated today on Leros and Kos are another tangible proof of the undivided European solidarity with Greece,” Schinas said.
He added that it marked the implementation of a November, 2020 decision of the European Union agreed to finance the construction of new migrant centers on the bloc’s outlying borders.
The EU committed 276 million euros ($312.43 million) for new camps on Leros, Lesbos, Kos, Chios and Samos, which receive most of the migrant arrivals by sea from neighboring Turkey, which lets human traffickers keep sending them.
That’s despite an essentially-suspended 2016 swp deal with the EU under which Turkey is supposed to contain 4.4 million refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war, strife and economic hardships in their homelands.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis said, “Images like those experienced by the islands in the period 2015-19 belong definitively to the past,” reported Kathimerini, as he referred to more than a million who came through Greece, most reaching other EU countries before the borders were shut to them.
The takeover of Afghanistan by the murderous rule of the Taliban has led to fears that more Afghans would flee and head to Greece through Turkey but that hasn’t materialized although Greece extended a border wall with Turkey near the Evros River.
The “closed” camps feature barbed wire fencing, surveillance cameras, x-ray scanners and magnetic doors and gates remain closed at night to keep people in, reported Agence France-Presse.
They also have many features, like running water, toilets and more security, that were absent from the previous facilities that became infamous for their living conditions, the report noted.
The first camp was opened on Samos in September and there are plans to open two more on Lesbos and Chios, completing those on five islands which are holding about 4,500 of them, down from 40,000 in April 2020.
Human rights groups, activists and NGOs said the new camps, despite more features, are still isolated and confining and that those held inside should be allowed more freedom.
According to the latest United Nation estimates, there are currently around 96,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Greece who have nowhere else to go and would be sent back to Turkey otherwise, although that hasn’t happened in any large numbers despite the EU deal.
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said the new facilities are “prison-like,” noted Reuters and Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic wrote to Greek ministers in May, saying she feared the closed nature of the camps would lead to long-term deprivation of liberty.
Mitarachi said there were now fewer than 600 asylum-seekers on both Kos and Leros, down from about 6,500 a year ago.