Mayors of three Greek islands bearing the brunt of intensely overcrowded refugee and migrant camps, with a growing migrant influx from Turkey, demanded the transfer of thousands to the country’s mainland during a meeting with the new migration minister in Athens on Thursday, according to Reuters.
During a second day of protests over the plight of the camps and the conservative government’s plans to replace them with holding centers, the mayors of Lesbos, Samos and Chios pressed for a swift resolution to the problem.
Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said after the meeting that the concerns were justified as the migrant crisis has placed a heavy burden on island communities.
“Our priorities include the decongestion of islands, the reduction of migrant inflows, their [migrants] return to Turkey and trust-building measures between the central government and the islands,” Mitarachi told reporters.
On Wednesday island shops remained shut and public services disrupted by a walkout as part of the protest.
Greece, via neighboring Turkey, was the main gateway into the European Union for more than a million mainly Middle East and Asian migrants fleeing conflict in 2015-16.
Last year 59,726 migrants and refugees reached Greek shores, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR. Nearly 80 percent of them arrived on Lesbos, Chios or Samos, which lie in Aegean waters not far from the coast of Turkey.
Aid groups have described the living conditions of about 36,000 people in camps operating far beyond their capacity as appalling. The Moria camp on Lesbos, set up to accommodate 3,000 people, hosts at least five times that number.
Medical assistance group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Thursday accused the Greek government of “deliberately depriving” at least 140 children with life-threatening diseases in Moria on Lesbos of adequate medical care.