1,500 migrants moved from ‘hell’ of overcrowded island - GulfToday

1,500 migrants moved from ‘hell’ of overcrowded island


Refugees wait to board a ship at the port of Mytilene, island of Lesbos, on Monday. Agence France-Presse

Greek officials and UN workers evacuated the first group of what will be hundreds of migrants from the Greek island of Lesbos on Monday, where overcrowding and a crushing heat have made conditions unbearable.

About 1,500 asylum-seekers were being transported from Greece’s eastern Aegean island of Lesbos to the mainland as part of government efforts to tackle massive overcrowding in refugee camps and a recent spike in the number of people arriving from the nearby Turkish coast.

A ship carrying 635 people set sail from Lesbos on Monday morning for the northern port city of Thessaloniki. From there, authorities said, the asylum-seekers would be transported to a camp in Nea Kavala in northern Greece. A second ship carrying nearly 900 people was to leave Lesbos for Thessaloniki on Monday afternoon.

The Citizens Protection Ministry said a total of around 1,000 of those being transferred will be housed in Nea Kavala, where they will be staying in tents until the end of the month, after which they will be transferred to a new camp under construction. The rest will be housed in other facilities in northern Greece.

The transfer was part of decisions made during a national security meeting Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis convened Saturday, after nearly 600 people arrived on Lesbos in more than a dozen boats in the space of an hour Thursday.

The national security council meeting also decided to speed up the deportation of those whose asylum applications have been rejected, and to abolish the second-stage review of asylum applications. The government also announced increased border surveillance, to activate a maritime surveillance system and to bolster the coast guard’s fleet with 10 new speedboats.

“I hope to get out of this hell quickly,” 21-year-old Mohamed Akberi, who arrived at the camp five days earlier, told AFP. The migrants were taken onto a ship, the Caldera Vista, bound for the port of Thessaloniki on mainland Greece.

In a separate development, Italian authorities on Monday seized the charity rescue vessel Eleonore, disembarking the around 100 migrants aboard after it entered Italian territorial waters despite a ban.

“Now we are in a safe port,” Elenore’s captain Claus-Peter Reisch tweeted, before adding “now our ship is confiscated” and inviting contributions for a new one.

The ship, operated by German charity Lifeline, has been at sea for eight days waiting for a safe port to dock after rescuing over 100 migrants in distress while crossing the Mediterranean.

Another rescue vessel, the Mare Jonio, on Monday said it would disembark its 31 rescued migrants.

“We have just been informed that the Italian coastguard will soon disembark ‘for health reasons’ the last 31 people on board,” Mediterranea Saving Lives, which operates the vessel, tweeted.

“Their odyssey is over and a bit of humanity can be seen on the horizon. Welcome to Europe!” the charity tweeted, with the vessel currently off the coast of Italy’s southern island Lampedusa.

Three charity vessels are currently banned from entering Italian territorial waters in accordance with the hardline politics of the outgoing League-Five Star Movement coalition government.

Italy customs officers on Monday seized the Eleonore as part of the draconian legislation.

Fahimeh Nourmohammadi told AFP how she, her husband and two sons had fled Iran to escape religious radicals there.

On Lesbos for the past three weeks, she did not feel safe, she said. “A few days ago a young adolescent was stabbed in the camp,” she said.

She wants to get her children, 12 and 16, back in school, she added. “At Moria, my children don’t go to school, they are bored and at night they are scared.”

“We came all this way so they could have a future, so they could live in a democracy, and not for them to be in an unsanitary camp,” she added.

Migrants at the Moria camp have complained that the hygiene conditions are sub-standard and that there are no tents for the new arrivals.

In Brussels, the EU’s migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the Commission was ready to help Greece in any way it could with the transfers.

The EU remains committed to its 2016 agreement with Turkey and is ready to keep working with Ankara, he added.


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