Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas told Parliament on Friday that the government is planning to evacuate a makeshift refugee camp at the country’s main port of Piraeus by mid-June and to transfer over 1,400 migrants and refugees to more “dignified” facilities.
“We are striving to salvage the country’s dignity and that of these wretched people,” Mouzalas, who heads Greece’s effort to manage the biggest influx of refugees since World War II, told lawmakers in response to a question from a Greek Communist Party MP.
The leftist-led government is scrambling to respond to criticism from international rights watchdogs and the European Union that it is not doing enough to safely house and process around 6,000 migrants and refugees who remain trapped in the country since a deal between the EU and Turkey to stem the inflow went into effect on May 20.
The biggest problems are centered at two makeshift camps, one on Greece’s northern border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) that is home to over 10,000 migrants and refugees living in squalid conditions in the hope that authorities in the neighboring country reopen their border, and the other at Piraeus, the country’s main transit point for the holiday islands of the Aegean.
The government has also come under fire from residents at Idomeni in northern Greece over the situation at the camp, but also from tourism professionals who are concerned that the situation at Piraeus may have a negative impact on tourism as the peak season approaches.
Mouzalas did not go so far as to admit that the government has delayed in clearing these camps and transferring their residents to more appropriate accommodation, but he did say that he expects the “issue to come up again in the form of questions in Parliament.”
“We are in this predicament with around 6,055 people trapped in our country after the closure of the [FYROM, Bulgarian and Albanian] borders and the situation is acute,” the minister said.
Mouzalas said some of the migrants and refugees that will be evacuated from Piraeus will be transferred to a processing center in nearby Skaramangas and added that another center near the Greek capital will also be created to accommodate evacuees from Piraeus, as well as from the former airport at Elliniko on the capital’s southern coast.
“Skaramangas is a good center right now. We have worse and every day we are striving to improve them,” said Mouzalas.