Local and port authorities on the islands of the eastern Aegean are demanding immediate government action to decongest overcrowded migrant camps, insisting that they cannot cope with the recent surge in arrivals from neighboring Turkey.
In a letter addressed to Shipping and Island Policy Minister Theodoros Dritsas, the Lesvos Port Authority raised the alarm, saying the island simply does not have the available infrastructure to accommodate the increased flows. The number of migrants on Lesvos has reached 5,226 while existing camps are only designed to host 3,500. The situation on Chios is equally disheartening, with 3,309 migrants in accommodation for 1,100.
According to the latest data, there are 12,120 migrants on the islands.
A March deal between the European Union and Turkey to stem the flow managed to limit monthly arrivals to just a few thousand.
However, the figure rose to its highest in four months in August.
While Interior Ministry officials have attributed the overcrowded conditions at the camps to delays in the registration process, some critics have interpreted the increased traffic as a form of pressure from Ankara, which has linked the deal’s implementation to visa-free travel for its citizens within the EU.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said as much in an interview with Kathimerini published Tuesday where he warned the pact with Brussels will collapse unless it grants Turks visa-free travel by October “at the latest.”
Immigration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas has repeatedly stated that the government’s main priority is the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal.
Officials at the Ministry for Immigration Policy have not, at least publicly, subscribed to the narrative stipulating Turkish pressure, stressing, rather, that the government is taking all the “necessary measures” to tackle the recent spike in arrivals.
“We hope that the flows of migrants and refugees will return to the level of previous weeks,” ministry source said Tuesday.
Critics say the decision to increase police patrols on the islands is a sign of increasing concern that the situation could spiral out of control.