The government said Thursday it will fast-track procedures to create new centers to accommodate 30,000 people within the next 20 days as it finds itself in a race against time to meet an obligation to provide shelter to more than 50,000 asylum seekers stranded in the country, and to prevent an imminent humanitarian disaster. The current capacity of shelters is 38,000.
The decision came after a meeting of the government’s council of ministers, chaired by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, amid a growing sense of urgency surrounding camps around the country and the increasing realization that the existing infrastructure simply cannot cope with the huge refugee numbers.
It also follows the worsening toll on migrants’ health after the withdrawal on Wednesday of aid agencies from camps in Greece to protest the recent EU-Turkey deal – which was activated last Sunday – to stem refugee inflows to Europe, which, they say, contravenes international law.
At the same time, the spokesman of the coordinating committee for refugees, Giorgos Kyritsis, said legislation facilitating the implementation of the EU deal will be tabled in Parliament on Wednesday.
The government also said it will further empower the Immigration Policy Ministry to deal with increased obligations implicit in the deal, while temporary staff will also be enlisted.
Kyritsis also announced the creation of a monitoring mechanism under the general secretary of the Defense Ministry, Yiannis Tafyllis.
The government’s immediate priority, Kyritsis said, will be to provide relief to the sprawling and overcrowded border camp of Idomeni in northern Greece. He added that transport means will be made available over the next few days to transfer refugees to other centers affording more humane conditions.
The mayor of the nearby town of Paionia, Christos Goudenoudis, is calling for the camp’s immediate evacuation as the local community, he said, is feeling increasingly insecure as crime in the area has proliferated.
Meanwhile the latest figures suggest a marked decrease in refugee flows into the country over the last few days, while none arrived Thursday – for the first time since the deal between the European Union and Turkey was struck.
Authorities, however, have attributed this mostly to bad weather. On Tuesday, inflows were limited to 260 – a significant decrease from the several thousand a couple of weeks ago.