The long-awaited creation of closed centers for asylum seekers on five northeastern Aegean islands was announced on Monday by government spokesman Stelios Petsas, who stressed that a legislative act will be issued to allow for the acquisition of properties, land and sites by expropriation.
Petsas said the legislative act will “authorize” the Migration and Asylum Ministry to proceed “with the expropriation…of the necessary property and land for crisis management in order to address the urgent need to avoid endangering public health and order.”
The closed centers will be created on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros.
Given the objections and concerns of local communities, Petsas said that the site selection was made following an “exhaustive dialogue” with the competent regional and local authorities and after an appeal was made by the regional governor of the north Aegean islands, Costas Moutzouris, for a state of emergency to be declared on the islands.
However, Petsas’ announcement sparked a backlash on the islands, given that the capacity of some of these structures will be 20,000 people. Emergency meetings were held by municipal councils on Lesvos, Samos and Chios, while a scheduled meeting with government officials in Athens on Thursday has been cast in doubt.
According to Petsas, the structures will shelter new arrivals in order to facilitate the identification and asylum processes. He added that they will also be used to detain migrants who exhibit abusive behavior and those who are not entitled to asylum and are slated for return to their country of origin.
In addition, the operation of these new structures foresees internal regulations, such as allowing residents to leave the centers for a limited period of time. Residents will be given special cards for this purpose. The structures will be closed at night. The government has declared that “the violation of any internal rules will adversely affect asylum claims and speed up the process of the offender’s return [to their country of origin].”
The closed centers are part of a broader four-pronged government plan to resolve the migration problem. This also entails tightening border security, speeding up asylum procedures and increasing returns.
The government hopes that the creation of the closed structures will eventually dampen the of local communities’ opposition, once conditions on the islands improve. Petsas stressed Monday that the aim is to support local communities.