Following a visit to the Aegean island of Samos in the wake of rioting and a spate of fires at the Vathy reception center for migrants, Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis on Tuesday described the situation there as “extremely difficult.”
Mitarakis said that 22 migrants would face criminal charges over the upheaval. “It is clear that those who come to our country and apply for asylum are obliged by the Geneva Convention to respect Greek law,” he said.
Mitarakis did not comment on the government’s plans to decongest overcrowded facilities on the islands, which have been postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic. He noted, however, that progress has been made, with 12,000 migrants moved from island camps to the mainland this year. He added that his aim was for the Vathy facility to close.
Meanwhile tensions have erupted between the ministry and the Greek chapter of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which operates most of the accommodation facilities for migrants on the Greek mainland, following outbreaks of Covid-19 at three centers.
In an announcement on Tuesday, the IOM said it cooperates with Greek authorities but stressed that the facilities are “the full responsibility of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum, including safety and security issues.”
IOM staff, who work five days a week at the facilities, “cannot be held responsible for illegal acts that hosted migrants may commit,” it said. It was unclear whether the IOM was referring to the decision by five migrants to leave a camp in Malakasa despite a quarantine.
The statement followed a letter sent by the ministry to the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs on Tuesday, noting that 202 coronavirus cases have been recorded at facilities on the island which are managed by the IOM.