Government announces plans to relocate 20,000 people from islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos by early 2020
People living in overcrowded camps on the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos will be moved to closed complexes for identification, relocation and deportation with a capacity of at least 5,000 people each.
More than 27,000 people are currently housed on the three islands – which have a nominal capacity of just 4,500…
Smaller camps on the islands of Kos and Leros will be remodelled along similar lines and enlarged … The changes come with winter approaching and hundreds of families sleeping in tents outside official facilities on the five islands.
Asylum seekers will not be allowed to move freely in and out of the camps, said officials, but will instead be locked up until they are either granted refugee status and relocated to the mainland or rejected and sent back to Turkey.
„Decongesting the islands is a priority at this stage,“ the government’s special coordinator for migration Alkiviadis Stefanis, a former army general and chief of staff, told a news conference on Wednesday.
Instead of being allowed to move freely in and out of the camps, asylum seekers will now be locked up until they are granted refugee status and relocated to the mainland, or rejected and sent back to Turkey, officials said.
Stefanis also said on Wednesday that new criteria would be issued for the operation of NGOs helping refugees and migrants.
„Only those [NGOs] that meet the requirements will stay and continue to operate in the country,“ said Stefanis, who is also Greece’s deputy defence minister.
The Greek government gives more information on the Introduction of closed ‘pre-removal’ centres
The latest response by the Greek government to the refugee situation in Greece following their hasty reform of the asylum legislation at the end of October follows the changes in legislation to detention procedures.
In essence, the new law enables the detention of asylum seekers arriving at the borders to be detained in closed pre-removal centres and subjected to a shorter asylum procedure (six weeks) with a view to accelerating returns to Turkey under the terms of the EU Turkey deal. In these centres it will be decided whether Greece considers that the refugee has a right to enter the territory.
The new legislation also allows for asylum seekers who are currently already on Greek territory to be detained in the centres on the basis that they have failed asylum claims or even because they are deemed to have not collaborated with the Greek authorities who have subsequently cancelled their asylum claims. Not collaborating could be something as simple as moving from one part of Greece to another, without permission.
The new legislation also allows for people to be detained for longer periods and there is a possibility now that people can be detained for up to three years.
For detailed information about the new detention legislation see here
Following a meeting today and according to the latest information, the new government plans to move 20,000 asylum seekers to the mainland by the end of 2019, whilst, at the same time will be building five new closed pre removal centres, capable of detaining thousands of people per detention centre, on the Aegean Islands and on Crete and the Peloponnese. The pre-removal centres are planned to be completed by the end of July 2020.
According to the latest information, the establishment of closed pre-concession centers in Mytilene , Chios , Samos and Lemnos , whose capacity is directly related to the population of these islands, however, will in any case not exceed 10,000 people.
Suggestions have also been made for the location of similar centers in the islands of the Dodecanese , such as Kos and Leros, but there is no definitive decision. Security centers are also expected to be set up in the mainland, as discussions between Interior Minister Takis Theodorikakos and the regional governors and mayors are at an advanced stage.
The announcement is due to be issued tomorrow (Wednesday 20th).
The Prime Minister reiterated his stance today on the issue: „The current government is following another policy. We changed the asylum law and made it stricter. We have a different policy on border guard. We are setting up closed pre-departure centers to control who comes in and who comes out. “
Apparently, the move is planned to give “strong symbolism’ of the forthcoming announcements. The creation of the closed pre-removal centres will be in locations far away from the tourist areas meaning that NGO’s are likely difficulty accessing the asylum seekers for both legal representation and for food and non-food support, which is a firm plan for avoiding having any witnesses to what happens in these places.
Detention centres like this are already present in Bulgaria which explains the recent metting between the two countries leaders. It also means that there is a precedent that will be ignored by EUropean leaders. The numerous Strasbourg judgments have already ordered that existing Greek detention conditions, which are appalling, be brought in line with Article 3 ECHR. This has not happened.
An announcement will also be made regarding the strengthening of monitoring the border by the coast guard and the Navy, such as the acquisition of more thermal cameras, and the recruitment of 400 border guards, 500 new asylum and inland staff, as well as 800 people for border guard and pre-departure in the islands.
The Prime Minister is also expected to address the issue of Migration during his speech at the NATO Summit in London on 4 December.
More information in Greek – here.
The European Commission finally has a Prime Minister who is willing to do their bidding.
More news as we have it and RefuComm remains committed to ensuring that any changes to legislation are made available to asylum seekers in Greece.
In 2018, during which 66,969 applicants registered claims with the Asylum Service, the Hellenic Police detained 18,204 asylum seekers in pre-removal detention centres alone, while holding many more in unsuitable police stations. This is almost double the number of asylum seekers held in pre-removal centres in 2017 (9,534). Albeit reflecting only part of detention landscape in the country, these figures reveal the continuation of a policy of migration management largely based on coercion.
Against that backdrop, the latest iteration of hasty reform of asylum legislation introduced by the Greek government to “amend the detention regime in order to avoid thousands of foreigners evading authorities’ oversight” should give one pause. The International Protection Act (Greek IPA), approved by the Parliament on 31 October 2019 within two weeks of presentation of a bill to a truncated public consultation, has attracted deep concerns from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and civil society organisations (e.g. Refugee Support Aegean, Greek Council for Refugees, Médecins Sans Frontières, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch). Critiques point to the government’s doubling down on coercive measures and weakening procedural guarantees in the areas of reception and asylum procedures. They also flag the lack of prior evaluation of the successive asylum reforms carried out in recent years and of due justification for new legislation.