A spike in migrant flows over the last month to islands in the northern and eastern Aegean has put fresh pressure on the country’s already overcrowded reception centers, to the frustration of Greek authorities which are reportedly exploring different options.
Since the beginning of August, some 6,000 asylum seekers have been admitted to island hotspots, burdening conditions at the overcrowded camps to a life-threatening degree, with instances of violence on the rise – as indicated by the fatal stabbing three days ago at the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos of a 15-year-old Afghan teenager by a boy of the same age.
According to the latest official data, the islands of Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos are hosting more than 24,000 refugees and migrants, with around 20,000 of them staying at hotspots designed to hold a third of that number.
To make matters worse, reception centers and shelters on the Greek mainland are similarly stretched beyond capacity. Furthermore, a number of programs allowing for some 4,800 asylum seekers to be sheltered at hotels will expire in October.
Unless these programs are extended (the funding has to be approved), accommodation will have to be found for an additional 5,000 people.
A total of 67,000 asylum applications are pending, with the authority tasked with their processing being able to handle approximately 2,400 requests per month on average. At this rate, it will take more than two years to deal with the applications of those already in the country – not counting an average of 253 people coming to the Greek islands from Turkey on a daily basis.
Migration Ministry sources have attributed the increased flow to Turkish government efforts to apply pressure on Europe. The same sources cited the remarks made on July 22 by Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu who said that no European government would last six months if Turkey were to open the floodgates.
To deal with the problem, sources say the Greek government is considering increasing capacity on the mainland, changing the legal framework regarding asylum applications and defining migrants on the islands as “vulnerable.”