In an effort to restart the stalled dialogue with local authorities on the Greek islands regarding the government’s handing of the refugee crisis, Migration and Asylum Policy Minister Notis Mitarakis on Monday announced a one-week freeze in the construction of the new closed centers for migrants.
The government’s plan to construct these centers via expropriations sparked a storm of protests from island authorities, resulting in the cessation of an ongoing dialogue between the two sides on migration policy.
“I’ll put the plan on hold until we discuss [it],” Mitarakis told Northern Aegean Regional Governor Kostas Moutzouris during a heated debate aired on Greek state television.
“Local authorities have one week to point out alternative locations,” Mitarakis, who is from one of the affected islands, Chios, tweeted later.
For his part, Moutzouris hastened to hail the freeze as result of his own efforts.
“The migration minister accepted my request to suspend the expropriation measures until next week so that the dialogue between the local communities and the government can resume from scratch,” he said in a statement.
However, works on the islands – with the exception of Samos, where they are almost finished – have not yet begun, and it remains to be seen whether a compromise between the two sides can be found in the week ahead, which is something that has not been achieved in previous months.
Two days before he announced the extension, Mitarakis and the ministries of Interior and Environment signed a joint ministerial decision that will allow the fencing off and the necessary earthworks for the new centers.
Mitarakis said it is a matter of public interest for the construction of the centers to go ahead. “We are ready to implement it,” he said.
Meanwhile, in recent days an Amnesty International research team visited reception and identification centers on Lesvos and Samos and noted what they said were “unacceptable living conditions,” which they gleaned from the testimonies of refugees and migrants who, the team said, are forced to reside in constantly expanding camps.
Meanwhile, an additional182 asylum seekers arrived on the Greek islands over the weekend from Turkey.