ATHENS – Greece’s Migration and Asylum Ministry will take over the operation of 28 shelters holding refugees and migrants on the mainland seeking sanctuary, the facilities having been under the aegis of international aid groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs.)
The ministry said it was being done to improve how the facilities are run at the same time human rights groups and activists said government refugee and migrant centers and camps on five islands holding more than 42,000 people have inhumane conditions.
It was a joint decision by Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis and Deputy Finance Minister Theodoros Skylakakis, said Kathimerini, as the New Democracy government had been trying to corral a growing crisis with Turkey sending thousands more to Greece through islands and trying to get them through a northern land border.
There are about 100,000 in Greece who came from Turkey where they had first gone fleeing war and strife and miserable economic conditions in their homeland. Under an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the European Union, Turkey is supposed to contain them.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in late February broke the deal after the deaths of 33 Turkish soldiers in an area of northern Syria they had invaded, making hear fear more Syrians would flee a civil war there and come to Turkey, which is already holding 3.3 million of them.
He said he wants a revision of the swap deal, including the release of some 3 billion euros ($3.28 billion) being held back from a 6-billion-euro ($6.56 billion) package.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the government is being urged by groups aiding in the refugee crisis to “immediately reduce congestion at the islands’ reception and identification centers (RICs) for asylum seekers and migrants to avert a public health crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic.”
HRW said 21 human rights and humanitarian organizations claimed that thousands of refugees and migrants, including unaccompanied minors and others in vulnerable groups are trapped in the centers and camps during the raging COVID-19 Coronavirus world crisis.