ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece, on the front line of migration into Europe, promised on Wednesday to build new reception centres for asylum seekers and cut the maximum stay in camps on its now-overcrowded islands.
The country bore the brunt of a large influx of refugees and migrants into Europe in 2015 and 2016, many arriving via its outlying Aegean islands close to Turkey.
The flow has since ebbed significantly, though more than 90,000 migrants remain in Greece, of which about 19,000 live in filthy temporary camps, some for months or years.
Authorities will have finished the construction of better-equipped camps on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos by the autumn of 2021, Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said. None of the asylum seekers would be on an island for more than six months.
“In 12 months from today we should not have any of the legacy reception system we are seeing today,” Mitarachi told a news conference called to present the country’s migration strategy over the next two years.
Authorities were restructuring the asylum service to introduce remote and digital applications in order to faster process a backlog of about 87,000 asylum requests, he said.
In September, a fire razed Greece’s largest migrant camp on Lesbos, leaving about 12,000 people stranded. Most of them have now been moved to a temporary tent camp.
The conservative New Democracy government, elected in July 2019, has taken a tougher stance towards migration than its left-wing predecessors. It has placed limits on an appeals process which previously took months or years to navigate.
(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Editing by Mark Heinrich)