“Sixty-thousand migrants and refugees is not such a huge number,” Deputy Defense Minister Dimitris Vitsas told Skai TV Friday, saying that Greece could easily handle the volume of arrivals “if we didn’t... distribute them between only 200 of the country’s 354 municipalities.”
Responding to criticism about conditions at many of the migrant reception facilities in northern Greece, Vitsas said that they were created in order to take in evacuees from a large makeshift camp that had been set up last year on the country’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and that they would either be shut down or rebuilt.
His comments came after the high commisioner of the United Nations refugee agency called on Greece to take measures for the protection of thousands of refugees and migrants before the weather turns.
“With the arrival of winter, there are still many thousands of people living in sites that are not yet at standard conditions,” UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi told a news conference in Athens on the final day of a three-day visit to Greece on Friday. “It is important to upgrade conditions to minimize the risk factors to which these people are exposed. And they will be increasingly exposed when winter comes.”
Vitsas said that the government plans to keep between 30 and 33 of the current 50 centers operating on the mainland, adding that with the exception of municipalities on Greece’s northern borders, all other parts of the country will have to share the burden “if the need arises.”
Vitsas, whose ministry is responsible for the majority of the reception centers, said that these facilities will be made to hold a smaller number of people and that “many” refugees and migrants would be relocated to vacant apartments and hotels within the next few months.