The Migration Ministry announced on Monday that it will not be going ahead with its plan of increasing the housing capacity for migrants near the Evros border with Turkey in Northern Greece, following a change of mind by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The forceful reaction of the local community, which was planning several protests and rallies, as well as the stance of the regional authorities were crucial in changing the government’s plans.
According to information available to Kathimerini, local representatives of the ruling New Democracy party had made it known that the same people who were pleased by the extension and reinforcement of the border fence at Evros were now fuming with these new plans for the center.
“The decision taken by the government is to refrain from increasing and upgrading the capacity of the Reception and Identification Center (RIC) following extensive consultation with the local authorities as well as the responsible ministries,” new government spokesperson Aristotelia Peloni said.
Instead, the ministry said that the capacity of the Evros center will be increased by 20 to alleviate strains necessitated by the imposition of quarantines. This means that from a current total capacity of 330 it will be increased to 350 positions for migrants.
In fact, a major rally was being organized by locals and authorities to take place over the next few days. Deputy Regional Governor of the Evros region, Dimitris Petrovits, told Kathimerini that “the border region must be free of migration to reduce the danger of internal turmoil if we face issues at the border.”
At the same time, the local pre-removal detention centre will see an upgrade of its infrastructure and an increase in capacity from the current number of 370 to 610, a change of 240 places. The increase in the isolated facility’s capacity aims to reduce the number of irregular migrants held in local border control facilities.
The original plan envisioned increasing the capacity of the holding center by 750 places as well as an increase in size of approximately 70.000 sq m. This plan was to be materialized with European Union funding with a budget of approximately 30 million euros. The Migration Ministry noted that a new study was now required to determine the necessary size required to upgrade the center’s infrastructure.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis had visited the region on February 8 to help illustrate the necessity of increasing the capacity of both the local facility and detention center by over 750 spaces each. However, he was met with extreme hostility by the local population who swarmed the minister and pelted him with rocks and coffees.
Local officials made it clear that both they and the local population were vehemently opposed to any increase in capacity of the migration centers and pointed to a decision of the local regional council of East Macedonia and Thrace from January 27 stating just that.