The European Union’s home affairs commissioner is visiting facilities for migrants and refugees on the eastern Greek islands of Samos and Lesbos amid continuing accusations against Greece of illegal summary deportations and pushbacks at sea.
EU commissioner Ylva Johansson and Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi were to hold meetings with local officials on the two islands Monday. They will also visit a new camp being constructed on Samos and a camp on Lesbos where thousands of migrants and refugees have been living since the notoriously overcrowded Moria camp on the island burned down last year.
Refugee rights organizations and numerous asylum-seekers have accused Greek authorities of conducting pushbacks at sea – the illegal deportation of newly arrived migrants and refugees without giving them the chance to apply for asylum.
The Greek coast guard has been accused of picking up people at sea who are attempting to cross from nearby Turkey into Greece in dinghies, or shortly after they arrive on Greek islands, putting them into life rafts and towing them out to the sea border with Turkey before setting them adrift.
Recently, Greece ordered its coast guard to push migrants into Turkish territorial waters, according to a string of emails exchanged between the European Union border agency Frontex and the Greek coast guard.
Greek officials claim that they comply with international law and that the allegations in question are untrue, although emails with Frontex clearly documented the pushback instructions.
Numerous reports by journalists, researchers and witnesses have also cataloged how migrants and asylum-seekers have been forced back across the border to Turkey or left stranded in the Aegean Sea without aid by the Greek coast guard, despite the conservative government’s denials in Athens.
On Samos, Johansson and Mitarachi toured a new camp being constructed on the island, far from the main port town of Vathy. Unlike the current camp, the new facility will be closed, meaning access to and from the camp will be restricted.
The vastly overcrowded current camp, located on the outskirts of Vathy, has long surpassed its capacity. Built for fewer than 650 people, the camp and spillover shantytown area currently house more than 3,100 people.
On Lesbos, the EU commissioner and Greek migration minister will tour the new camp that was hastily erected after Moria burnt down last year in a series of blazes Greek authorities said were set deliberately by a group of Afghan residents angered by coronavirus lockdown measures.
Set on a former military shooting range by the sea, the new camp consists of large tents and has been plagued by flooding problems during the winter. Residents complain of poor sanitation and electricity access, while rights groups have said the site is plagued by lead contamination problems. Greek authorities have said tests on lead levels in the camp’s living quarters have shown them to be within the acceptable levels.
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