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Society

Left Adrift by EU, Greece Gets Tough with Refugee, Migrant Policy

From concrete walls to demanding Turkey take back migrants denied asylum, Greece is getting its back up in dealing with people seeking sanctuary after the European Union closed its borders to them.

In a feature, the Reuters news agency noted that border controls are also tightening even as human rights groups keep up criticism of the New Democracy government's approach to dealing with lessening numbers of arrivals.

At the same time, Greece denies constant accusations from activists and Turkey, which is supposed to contain some 4.4 million refugees and migrants who went there fleeing war, strife and economic hardships in their homelands, that it's pushing back those trying to reach Greek islands by boat or over land.

Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said the government is taking a tougher approach "so we don't send the wrong message of incentivizing people to come" to Greece, the story noted.

Greece has been dealing with a refugee and migrant crisis for almost six years, people who used Turkey as a jumping off point to get to the EU through Greece, hoping to find asylum in more prosperous countries, especially Germany.

While the numbers that were over 100,000 have fallen in half, refugees and migrants are being held in detention camps on five islands near Turkey and on Greece's mainland, including the Ritsona center north of Athens.

Concrete-fenced, it resembles a small walled town, with makeshift grocery stores, a butcher and a cafe blasting Arabic music but it still feels like a prison to those inside, the report added.

"Before, we were in an invisible jail. Now it (is) a visible jail," said Liban, who fled Somalia in 2018 when drought and ongoing conflict left half the population without food, water or shelter or hope.

Besides fencing off camps, Greece launched an EU-wide tender in June to build two closed-type facilities on the islands of Samos and on Lesbos, where the former occupants of the notorious Moria camp burned down by a handful of occupants in protest of COVID-19 restrictions are now housed on an abandoned army firing range.

Greece said the measures will make camps safer but aid groups say containment policies hurt people already traumatized by war and conflict and The Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner has urged Greece to reconsider.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said a "policy-driven humanitarian crisis" was unfolding on the five islands near Turkey, where it treated more than 1,300 people, a third of them children, for mental health issues

"This obsession with deterrence and the obsession of control and at the same time, zero investment in integration, is only causing pain and nothing else," MSF's Greece Director Christina Psarra told the news agency.

Mitarachi said Greece granted asylum to qualified applicants but “we don’t want to be the gateway to Europe for the smuggling networks” that Turkey lets operate during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU.

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