NEWS

Greek gov’t council to discuss spike in migrant influx

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The government’s Council for Foreign Affairs and Defense (KYSEA) is to hold an emergency session Saturday to discuss resurgent migration pressures after arrivals to the Aegean islands hit the highest level since the peak of the crisis in 2016 as Athens complained to Ankara about the spike.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called the KYSEA session for 11 a.m. Saturday after a tense day as Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias summoned Turkish Ambassador Burak Ozugergin to express Greece’s concern at the sudden increase in arrivals.

The move came after it emerged that 546 migrants landed on Lesvos on Thursday in 13 boats.

The mass arrivals were the largest since the height of Europe’s refugee crisis in early 2016 when thousands of people were reaching Lesvos per day, putting a huge strain on the island. According to sources, Dendias impressed upon Ozugergin Turkey’s obligations under a pact signed between Ankara and the European Union in March 2016 to curb migrant smuggling across the Aegean.

Arrivals to the Aegean islands from neighboring Turkey have been steadily rising in recent weeks, with non-government organizations reporting a doubling of inflows compared to last summer and expressing concerns about deteriorating living conditions and rising tensions. Last Sunday, a 15-year-old Afghan youth was killed by a compatriot of the same age in the severely cramped Moria facility on Lesvos.

Of the state camps on five eastern Aegean islands, those on Lesvos and Samos are said to be in a particularly dire state, hosting more than three times the numbers they were designed to hold. The head of the union of state workers at Moria, Vassilis Davas, told Kathimerini that the camp was bursting at the seams. “There are more than 1,000 people in a facility with a maximum capacity of 3,000,” he said. “We don’t have any space to receive them and register them.”

Friday authorities announced a move that will ease some of the pressure on the severely cramped Moria facility on Lesvos. A total of 10,000 asylum-seekers are to be moved to another state camp in Nea Kavala in northern Greece on Tuesday.

The United Nations refugee agency and other organizations working with migrants on the islands have underlined the need for more camp residents to be transferred to the mainland, particularly the elderly, pregnant women and unaccompanied minors.

NGOs are particularly concerned about the fate of children amid indications that the number of minors traveling to Greece without their families is on the rise. According to UNICEF, more than 32,000 child migrants are currently in Greece – 4,100 of them unaccompanied including 1,100 on the islands. Of the 546 migrants who traveled to Lesvos on Thursday, 40 percent were reportedly children.