Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas was prevented for a second time on Tuesday from reaching the island of Lesvos, where he hopes to inspect a migrant camp amid criticism of conditions from aid workers and European authorities.
Mouzalas tried to reach the eastern Aegean island by helicopter at noon after an airplane from Athens was turned back because of low clouds and snow earlier in the day, but this second attempt also failed due to weather conditions.
The minister is under pressure to improve housing at migrant and refugee camps amid a cold snap that has brought snow and freezing temperatures to most of Greece. Conditions are reported as being particularly dire at the Moria camp in Lesvos, where some 1,000 people are still staying in tents.
Mouzalas on Monday admitted that the situation on the islands due to the sub-zero temperatures is not acceptable but suggested that the main reason for this is that locals have obstructed plans to expand reception facilities so migrants can be moved out of the hotspots.
European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud, meanwhile, on Monday described the situation as “untenable” and said that Brussels is prepared to help the Greek government. However, she stressed that Athens is mainly responsible for the conditions at the camps.
One of the non-governmental organizations working on the islands, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) raged against Athens and Brussels for the refugees’ plight. “These families are paying the price of European cynicism and the reprehensible deal with Turkey,” said MSF’s head of the mission in Greece, Clement Perrin, and called on Greek authorities to take emergency measures to provide “dignified living conditions” for the migrants.
The United Nations refugee agency also urged Greek authorities last week to quickly move asylum-seekers to the mainland from overcrowded facilities on Greek islands, saying conditions remain bad.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said in Geneva on Friday that conditions at many sites “remain very poor” despite improvement efforts.