Some 2,000 asylum-seekers will be moved out of a severely overcrowded camp on the Greek island of Lesbos this month as pressure mounts on the government to reduce its unsustainable population.
Those being moved out of the Moria camp – which houses 9,000 people in a facility built for 3,100 – will be sent to the mainland so their asylum claims can be examined, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said on Tuesday.
“The situation in Moria is indeed difficult, it is indeed at the limit,” Tzanakopoulos said.
Regional governor Christina Kalogirou slammed conditions at the camp, which has raw sewage running out of its main entrance, and threatened to shut down the facility unless conditions improved.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) called for the emergency evacuation of vulnerable people to the mainland and other European Union countries, citing an increase in suicide attempts and self-harm among children in Moria, as well as cases of sexual attacks.
“This is the third year that MSF has been calling on the Greek authorities and the EU to take responsibility for their collective failures and to put in place sustainable solutions to avoid this catastrophic situation,” said Louise Roland-Gosselin, MSF’s head of mission in Greece.
“It is time to immediately evacuate the most vulnerable to safe accommodation in other European countries and to stop this never-ending cycle of emergency decongestions and the horrendous conditions we continue to witness in Moria.”
Some 3,000 people were transferred from Moria to the mainland over the summer and another 700 people were moved last week, Tzanakopoulos said. A further 2,000 will be moved by the end of September.
Thousands of people fleeing violence and poverty at home are still arriving at Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast.
Between Friday and Sunday, more than 600 reached Lesbos alone.
Under a 2016 deal between the EU and Turkey designed to halt the flow of refugees into Europe, those arriving on Greek islands are held in detention camps there and face deportation back to Turkey unless their asylum applications are approved.
But the massive backlog of applications has led to severe overcrowding on the Greek island camps, even as authorities move hundreds of vulnerable people to the mainland.
“What the Greek government is trying to do is to reduce the time required for a decision to be issued granting or rejecting asylum… But there is always reality,” Tzanakopoulos said.
“We try to strike a balance between respecting human rights … and trying to decongest as far as possible the islands.”
However, he stressed that the issue of immigration could only be solved if all European countries agreed to take in some of the asylum-seekers. Some EU nations – especially the Visegrad Group of Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia – have mostly refused to take in refugees.
“The only way for an overall solution to the immigration crisis is an equal and proportional sharing of refugees throughout Europe. And for as long as the Visegrad countries insist on their anti-European, anti-humanitarian and, in my opinion, illegal approach to European decisions, the problem will persist,” Tzanakopoulos said.
Further to the east, Cyprus has been seeing an increase in the number of people arriving there to claim asylum.
Interior Minister Constantinos Petrides said it’s “impossible” for Cyprus, a divided island nation with more than one million people, to absorb large numbers of refugees.