All unaccompanied minors have been removed from migrant camps on Greek islands, Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi said Sunday.
But refugee groups are still up in arms over Athens’ plans to keep the island facilities open for other asylum seekers, as well as a plan from Brussels to place the emphasis of EU migrant policy more firmly on removing people in Europe irregularly.
“There are no unaccompanied minors in any of the reception and identification centres on the islands”, Mitarachi told Real radio.
The minister added that migrant arrivals in Greece were down “more than 89 percent” in the past quarter, adding that “departures, relocations, legal deportations and voluntary returns are more than the arrivals.”.
Asylum activists have accused Greece of reducing arrivals by stepping up illegal pushbacks in the Aegean Sea in recent months.
But Mitarachi insisted that the drop was because Athens “has broken the chain of the people smuggling” in the region.
Greece’s government has cautiously welcomed a plan from Brussels to reform the EU’s shaky asylum system, but charity groups working with refugees on the ground have blasted a continued “outrageous containment policy”.
The “New Pact on Migration and Asylum”, unveiled on Wednesday, calls for a tougher stance on returning migrants who do not have the right to stay in the EU, and ratcheting up border controls.
The only flaw from Greece’s perspective is the Commission giving up on quota-based redistribution of asylum seekers among EU countries — a plan first mooted during the migration crisis of 2015 but which foundered on opposition from several member states.
“While there has been a climate of support from Europe after the Moria blaze, the final answers are not what some people might expect. There is a reserve in member states with few exceptions. Our country is constantly asking for relocations”, Migration minister said.
The Greek government has long struggled to manage overcrowding in camps on the five islands most affected by the arrivals, especially since the Moria camp on Lesbos burned down on September 8 and 9.
Half of the 24,000 migrants packed into Greek camps remain on Lesbos.
Authorities rushed to set up a provisional site for those left without shelter by the blaze, but charity groups are already incensed at conditions there.
“We have continuously exposed the human cost of this outrageous containment policy to leaders in European capitals, to commissioners in Brussels and to citizens through the media, but nothing seems to lead to a desperately needed radical policy change,” Doctors Without Borders (MSF) president Christos Christou tweeted Wednesday.