Although the number of arrivals of undocumented migrants on the Aegean islands from Turkey is down significantly – some 50 percent from last year, according to official figures – the influx of migrants to the mainland and city squares is a new headache for the authorities as many of them have nowhere to stay.
Since early June, an estimated 2,000 people have left reception facilities on the islands, either as part of a government program aimed at evicting recognized refugees to make room for new asylum seekers or of their own volition. With no work or accommodation, many of the migrants end up in city squares, notably in the capital’s central Victoria Square.
Sources at the Migration Ministry told Kathimerini that most of the migrants at Victoria Square are among those transferred to facilities in Skaramanga and Schisto in recent days. “They left their families there and returned to the square to press their demands,” one official said.
On Monday night, municipal workers removed the benches from the square, following complaints by local residents that migrants were camping in the area. Local businesses have also expressed frustration with the situation.
In the past two months, around 300 refugees have been moved to Elaionas, 80 to Skaramangas and 130 to Schisto.
Efforts are being made by the ministry to include refugees in the Helios program, which is run by the International Organization for Migration and subsidizes rent for refugees. However, the migrants must first rent an apartment and then apply for subsidies. That can be problematic as they need a tax registration number (AFM) to rent a property.
Around 700 recognized refugees have left the European Union-funded ESTIA accommodation program since early June, with another 1,000 leaving hotels and reception camps, far below the 11,000 that the ministry had set as a target.
Meanwhile Horst Seehofer, the interior minister of Germany, which this month assumed the EU’s rotating presidency, underlined the importance of a fairer distribution of refugees across member-states, noting that all the burden cannot be allowed to fall on Italy, Malta and Greece.
“The situation is not worthy of the European Union,” Seehofer told German TV channel ARD. “A boat arrives and then there are phone calls all across Europe to see who is ready to take them in,” Seehofer said.