Greek authorities to shut down overcrowded migrant camps on islands

The Greek government announced the planned closure of at least three overcrowded migrant camps on the Greek islands near Turkey on 20 November 2019. The residents of the camps will be moved to restrictive holding facilities, which have been described as similar to detention centres.

Migrants in camps on the islands of Chios, Samos and Lesbos will be transferred to new sites which will be built to house between 1,000 and 5,000 people. The camps currently house almost 36,400 migrants though they have a capacity of only 4,600.

One of the closing camps is the notorious Moria camp on Lesbos, where at least 13,000 migrants are living in a space built for 3,000 in poor conditions. Lesbos has been largely affected by migrant arrivals from Turkey, most of whom are from Afghanistan and Syria.

“Decongesting the islands is a priority at this stage,” said Greece’s special coordinator for migration, Alkiviadis Stefanis.

The Greek government has called the new sites “closed pre-departure centres” with the aim that this will send “a clear message…to those planning or thinking of coming to the country illegally when they aren’t entitled to asylum,” according government spokesman Stelios Petsas.

The new closed migrant centres will have facilities for identification, relocation and deportation. Human rights organisations, such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), have criticised the new closed centres and compared them to prisons: “the current policy of containing people on the Greek islands has created a system of chaos, neglect and immeasurable harm…If these announcements are confirmed, we don’t see how converting the centres into prisons represents a solution,” said Tommaso Santo, spokesperson for MSF.

Greece’s new conservative government, which was elected in July, has already planned to relocate 20,000 asylum seekers into camps on the mainland by early 2020 and deport 10,000 migrants whose asylum claims have been rejected by the end of 2020. They will be recruiting hundreds of additional asylum officers to aid in the deportation process.

The government also plans to create a border guard and step up the policing of the Aegean islands.

TMP – 28/11/19

Photo credit: Ververidis Vasilis /

Photo caption: Thessaloniki, Greece – Sept 2, 2019: Refugees and migrants disembark to the port of Thessaloniki after being transferred from the refugee camp of Moria, Lesvos island.