NEWS

Amid protests, Greece vows to reduce migrants on islands

DEREK GATOPOULOS

Children play inside the Moria refugee camp on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Amid protests, the government has promised to drastically reduce overcrowding at island camps over the summer [Petros Giannakouris/AP]

TAGS: Migration, Politics

Greek officials on Wednesday vowed to reduce severe overcrowding at migrant camps on Greeces islands, amid mounting protests that the immigration crisis has hurt the vital local tourism industry for a fourth successive summer.

Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas, who was visiting the island of Lesbos, said the government aimed to cut the number of migrants on five large Greek islands from the current level of 15,500 to 6,500 — equivalent to the capacity of refugee shelter facilities — by the end of September.

The promised changes came despite a recent spike in daily arrivals at the islands and at Greeces land border with Turkey.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is due to visit Lesbos on Thursday, and islanders are planning street protests and a strike by businesses in the main port.

As scores of police officers took up positions in the port Wednesday, protest organizers uses a van fitted with loudspeakers to urge local residents to join the strike.

The overcrowding has triggered frequent flare-ups of violence at the sprawling Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, where many still live in squalid conditions.

More than a dozen were injured when migrants were attacked with flares and burning trash bins during an anti-migrant protest organized in part by far-right groups on the island 10 days ago.

On Wednesday, Vitsas held a town hall meeting and spent several hours talking with Lesbos residents. Many angrily voiced their complaints and accused the government of abandoning the island.

"I cannot say when everything will happen but we will move forward," he said. "We are dragging out feet forward but hopefully that will improve."

He promised that several hundred additional staff would be hired over the summer to help clear a huge backlog of asylum claims.

He added the government also planned to streamline the asylum process and medical assessments required for some asylum seekers to be allowed to travel to the Greek mainland.

Several mainland migrant camps had reopened as part of the summer plan, Vitsas said. Many of the planned changes are included in draft legislation currently being debated in parliament and due to be put to the vote in mid-May. [AP]

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