Greek MEPs demand action on overpopulated migrant centres

Refugees from Turkey arrive on the coast of Lesbos, Greece. [Punghi/Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report Migration and security: Snapshots across a divided Europe.

Overpopulation of migrant reception centres on the island of Samos has reached the point of no return, with the local community and local authorities left overwhelmed and demanding assistance from the Greek government. EURACTIV Greece reports.

Last week, centre-right MEP Elissavet Vozemberg-Vrionidi submitted an urgent question to the European Commission, requiring immediate action to support the needs of the refugees and local society on Samos.

According to Vozemberg, the local community has been brought to its knees, “as the situation has reached the limits of a humanitarian crisis, with a total shortage of health care for migrants, an alarming increase in crime and frequent conflicts between foreigners”, she told EURACTIV.gr.

“Local actors call for the immediate decongestion of the island, the staffing of the asylum service and the provision of health care, otherwise they call for the immediate closure of the hospitality centre. It is worth mentioning that 60 to 70 people arrive on the island daily, with few returning to their homelands”, read the written question addressed to the EU executive.

Earlier this month, refugees marched in protest across the island, demanding better treatment and living conditions. At the same time, the mayor of Samos, Michalis Aggelopoulos, sent an official letter to the Greek Minister on Migration Policy, Dimitris Vitsas, asking for immediate answers and financial support for the island.

Strategy on efficient management still missing

In December, more than 3,100 people arrived at the Greek islands, according to data from the Greek Coast Guard, raising the total number of migrants and refugees on the Aegean islands to around 15,000 people.

In January, another 2,075 new migrants and refugees arrived at the Greek islands in the Eastern Aegean Sea, a higher number than in the corresponding month of 2018.

The Moria centre on Lesbos has twice as many refugees as its original capacity, while the Samos centre currently houses over 3,700 refugees, while its original capacity is only 648.

“We need honest strategies to deal with the dramatic flows to Europe. So-called “painkillers” do not solve a problem of that size, when a serious strategy is missing. As it seems, the sensitivity of this formerly leftist government obviously does not reach as far as Samos,” Socialist MEP Eva Kaili told EURACTIV.gr.

Last time or not?

This is not the first time the issue of over-congestion of the migrant centres has been brought to the attention of the EU executive. One month ago, another Greek Socialist MEP, Nikos Androulakis, voiced similar concerns about the living conditions in refugee reception centres on the Eastern Aegean islands in another formal question.

“Unfortunately, the situation in the East Aegean islands and especially in Samos is getting worse, instead of getting better each day. Since the beginning of the refugee crisis, I have highlighted the inhumane conditions prevailing in migrant centres, creating suffocating conditions for both the people who are housed there and the local residents who see their islands transformed into a storehouse of souls,” Androulakis wrote.

He also added that the Syriza government has linked the maintenance of low VAT rates on Samos and the rest of the islands, with the presence of a growing number of refugees and immigrants in the official reception structures.

“Let’s not forget that the European Union has allocated more than €1.6 billion to address the refugee crisis. However, the current conditions remain unacceptable and the European Union has ordered their control. This cannot continue,” Androulakis said.

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