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Society

Weary Head of Lesbos Refugee, Migrant Camp Quits

September 13, 2019

Saying he was too tired to go on, the Governor of the overwhelmed refugee and migrant detention center on the island of Lesbos has quit after three years during which successive Greek governments have done little to help.

Yiannis Balbakakis is credited with creating “safe zones” to protect unaccompanied underage refugees, women and single-parent families, said the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency (ANA-MPA) in a report on his resignation.

“I leave with my head held high for doing what I had to in difficult circumstances. I do not leave as a thief, nor do I leave as a protesting politician. I leave because I have to leave. I’m tired,” he told the agency adding that he submitted his resignation to the Citizen Protection Ministry citing that he was “tired” of trying to cope there.

The camp, which is a disused military base, has been repeatedly criticized by humanitarian organizations for its squalid living conditions with the BBC, which visited, calling it “the worst in the world,” and those living there abandoned by the European Union which closed its borders to them, dumping the problem on Greece.

The facility has been housing more than 10,000 people, nearly four times its maximum capacity. The new New Democracy government has begun to move some to mainland camps and centers already using another 50,000, which the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA said it couldn’t do because it would violate terms of an EU swap deal with Turkey.

Most of the 22,700 in Aegean island camps were sent there by human traffickers that Turkey lets operate in a bid to relieve that country of an overload of people who first went there from the Middle East and other countries, hoping to eventually get to the EU.

In a bid to ease the pressure and improve living conditions at the camp, authorities in early September moved about 1,400 refugees and migrants to facilities on the mainland but thousands more have arrived over the summer.

The government said it would speed the process of reviewing asylum applications, with virtually all those in the camps and centers seeking sanctuary to prevent being sent back to Turkey and an unknown fate but Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said deportations would also be stepped up for those deemed ineligible.

The relocation of migrants from island camps is one of a series of emergency measures decided by a government council after the arrival of more than 500 people on Sept. 5,  the largest number in one day since the peak of the refugee crisis in 2016.

In addition to relocations from the islands, the authorities are to bolster border controls and policing on the islands and the mainland which officials there have been seeking for the past few years to no avail.

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