Five days before Greece begins to send newly arrived migrants and refugees back to Turkey, under the terms of a recent deal between Ankara and the European Union designed to curb the influx, arrivals rose sharply on Wednesday as fears concerning the provision of their adequate shelter and safety rose.
Authorities said 766 people reached the islands of Lesvos, Samos, Chios and Kos between Tuesday and Wednesday morning – about a threefold surge compared to previous days when weather conditions were worse.
A Foreign Ministry bill setting out the details of the agreement was expected to be voted in Parliament by Friday. Meanwhile, as the northern border with Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) remains sealed, and with more than 51,430 people stranded on Greek territory, pressure on Athens is mounting.
In a first, about 200 migrants and asylum seekers backed by activists and human rights groups marched in the center of Athens on Wednesday evening demanding the opening of borders. Also, protesters blocked the railway tracks across the border at Idomeni for a 12th consecutive day.
Local authorities on Wednesday voiced concern over conditions at the old Athens airport at Elliniko, where more than 1,500 migrants and refugees have found temporary shelter over the past few months. Elliniko Mayor Ioannis Konstantatos told Kathimerini that the site does not meet basic sanitation and safety standards. Police patrols are restricted to 10 officers per shift and stay outside the premises. Sources told the newspaper that clashes between migrants, as well as cases of theft and sexual harassment, occur on a daily basis, but most go unreported.
In a sign of solidarity with refugees, British actress and political activist Vanessa Redgrave on Wednesday visited a Medecins Sans Frontieres medical clinic at the port of Piraeus, where more than 5,810 people have found temporary shelter.
“You are amazing because you remember that these refugees are mothers, fathers, children, human beings and that is what not a single European government has done,” she said during her visit to the clinic. “Shame on Europe!”
Meanwhile at a news conference, Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis announced that the City of Athens, with the help of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), is to rent 200 apartments in the Greek capital this year to house asylum seekers.
Kaminis said that the properties would be used by 3,000 people during the course of the year. Up to six people will live in each flat for a maximum of three months before new occupants are moved in.