As Greece struggles to handle an increasing number of refugees it continues drawing harsh criticism from the international community because of its recently changed stricter migration policies and appalling conditions in refugee camps. One of the latest steps taken by the Greek government was to decide to accelerate the extradition process of refugees to Turkey.
As Greece’s Ministry Of Citizen Protection announced, the number of refugees living in camps located on the Greek Islands in the Aegean Sea have reached 40,313.
The public broadcaster ERT said that this number represents the highest number of refugees in camps since the implementation of the migration deal signed between the EU and Turkey in March 2016.
In order to reduce the number of refugees in these camps, the Greek Parliament plans to speed up the extradition process of refugees to Turkey with the necessary changes in the refugee law.
To reduce the number of illegal migrants on the dangerous Aegean Sea route and to find a solution to the influx of refugees heading to the union, Turkey and the European Union signed an agreement in March 2016. The deal stipulates that Greece is to send migrants held on its Aegean islands back to Turkey. In return, Turkey is to send Syrian migrants it hosts to various European Union countries.
According to the deal, Turkey was promised a total of 6 billion euros ($6.65 billion) in financial aid, which was initially designed to be given to the country in two stages and be used by the Turkish government to finance projects for Syrian refugees. Visa freedom for Turkish citizens was also to be provided under the agreement. Lastly, the customs union was also to be updated in accordance with the deal.
In exchange for these promises, Turkey took the responsibility of discouraging irregular migration through the Aegean Sea by taking stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the conditions of the Syrian refugees living in Turkey.
Despite significant developments in the control of migration traffic, the EU could not deliver on its commitments stated in the deal.
Although the first stage of the funding was provided to Turkey, the EU has yet to fulfill other articles such as the visa-free deal for Turkish citizens and updating the customs union. Turkey currently hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world. Ankara has so far spent $40 billion on the refugees, according to official figures.
In Greece, there were only 14,000 refugees living in these camps by April this year. The Greek government decided to transfer 10,000 refugees to the mainland last month because of the overcrowding in camps located on the islands.
Greece’s new center-right government also decided to shut down three major refugee camps on the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea which host more people than their capacity allows.
At least 15,000 refugees of a total of 27,000 refugees living in appalling conditions of camps in Samos, Chios and Lesbos, each has the capacity of hosting 4,500 refugees, are expected to return to the closed facilities by July 2020.
The U.N. last month urged Greece to improve conditions in refugee camps, saying Europe must do more for the country.
Speaking to reporters after visiting refugee camps on Greece's Aegean island of Lesbos, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told reporters that the deplorable conditions at the camps need to be improved.
"These living conditions need urgent improvement," Grandi said.
Grandi said he would meet Greek government officials to discuss addressing conditions at the camps.
He said he is "very worried" about the condition of unaccompanied refugee children.
One of Greece's biggest camps, Moria on Lesbos, has been repeatedly criticized by nongovernmental organizations for inhumane conditions.
Turkey and Greece have been key transit points for irregular migrants aiming to cross to Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution.