Concerns are resurfacing about the situation on the islands of the eastern Aegean where thousands of migrants remain cooped up in overcrowded reception centers as an influx of new arrivals from Turkey has intensified.
Addressing Parliament on Friday, Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas spoke of a “noticeable increase” in arrivals, particularly to Samos and Lesvos. He remarked, however, that the increase “is not at a level to create the sense that the deal between the European Union and Turkey for stricter inspections and hampering [migrant] flows is collapsing.”
Both Mouzalas and the government came under fire from the political opposition, which highlighted the recent deterioration in relations between Turkey and Germany, with Ankara warning that it will stop cracking down on migrant smuggling in the Aegean.
“The situation on the islands is explosive, refugees and illegal immigrants are trapped there,” conservative New Democracy MP Miltiades Varvitsiotis told Parliament, noting that tense EU-Turkish relations and worsening ties between Ankara and Berlin are fuelling threats by Turkish authorities to dishonor the migrant deal. “Your role is to prepare the country to face whatever shift might occur in the Aegean in the event of the EU-Turkey deal collapsing,” Varvitsiotis said, slamming the ministry for failing to make use of structural funds or improve its response to the crisis.
Dimitris Kremastinos, an MP for Democratic Alignment, declared that Turkey’s threats to stop a crackdown on human smuggling would “distort the composition of the populations on the islands, which are sensitive areas.”
More than 3,500 migrants have landed on Greek shores this month. Conditions are said to be particularly bad on Samos where 3,012 people are cramped into a space designed to hold 700, and on Lesvos where facilities designed to host 2,500 people are accommodating 4,700.
There are fears that with the onset of the fall and worsening weather, tensions may rise at camps where some migrants are forced to sleep in tents outdoors due to overcrowding.