Concern as 300 refugees and migrants reach Greek island of Lesbos

Human rights groups and local authorities fear another uptick in refugee arrivals could worsen living conditions.

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    Refugees and migrants have continued to arrive in Greece amid overcrowding in camps [File: Anthi Pazianou/AFP/Getty Images]
    Refugees and migrants have continued to arrive in Greece amid overcrowding in camps [File: Anthi Pazianou/AFP/Getty Images]

    Athens, Greece - Local authorities and human rights groups have expressed concern after an estimated 300 refugees and migrants reportedly reached the Greek island of Lesbos in a 24-hour period.

    On Wednesday, the Greek daily Ekathimerini reported that eight boats carrying more than 300 people had reached the Greek island since Tuesday.

    Speaking to Al Jazeera, the office of Lesbos Mayor Spiros Galinos confirmed an uptick in arrivals but was unable to provide an exact number.

    "We have heard from the police that there were boats yesterday and today in Lesbos," said Marios Andriotis, the mayor's spokesperson.

    Andriotis added the arrivals will exacerbate the already declining humanitarian conditions on the island, where "the overpopulation in [Moria refugee camp] has been causing issues both inside the camp and outside in the surrounding communities."

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    More than 5,300 refugees and migrants are currently stuck in Moria camp in Lesbos, where overcrowding, poor living conditions and tensions with local Greek communities have prompted concern among human rights groups and aid organisations.

    Moria is equipped to accommodate around 2,000 people. 

    Most asylum seekers on Greek islands are barred from travelling to the mainland without receiving permission from authorities. 

    'End the containment policy' 

    Eva Cosse, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, warned that the Greek government should "end the containment policy" on Greek islands because "it is not a sustainable solution.

    "We fear that now, as the weather becomes better, we'll see large numbers of people arriving," she told Al Jazeera. "The situation is already problematic, but it could become even worse."

    At least 13,289 refugees and migrants have reached Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea so far this year, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR). Of that total, some 4,286 have landed in Greece.

    Some 489 have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea thus far in 2018, according to the UNHCR.

    In 2017, the Greek government received 58,661 asylum applications, according to the migration ministry's statistics. Since the start of 2018, at least 8,815 asylum applications have been submitted.

    In March 2016, the European Union and Turkey struck a deal to stem the flow of refugees and migrants to Europe.

    That deal was lambasted by rights groups and critics who said it effectively turned Greece into a "warehouse" for asylum seekers. 

    As a result of the agreement, tens of thousands of people fleeing war and economic devastation were stranded in Greece.

    On March 17, a boat carrying refugees capsized while en route to Greece from Turkey. The Greek coastguard subsequently found 16 bodies, among them children.

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    In a press release published that same day, Greece's migration minister, Dimitris Vitsas, said there was an urgent need for a "solution" to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. 

    "We can't tolerate losing children in the Aegean Sea … The solution is to protect people, to implement safe procedures and safe routes for migrants and refugees, to hit the human trafficking circuits," Vitsas said in the statement, as reported by Ekathimerini at the time.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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