ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece will move hundreds of migrants from a camp on the island of Lesbos to mainland facilities on Sunday as part of efforts to ease overcrowding, police and government officials said.
The European Union has asked Greece to move migrants most at risk of contracting the coronavirus from overcrowded camps on its Mediterranean islands.
Athens had opposed moving them all to the mainland, citing the absence of cases in the camps while the coronavirus was spreading elsewhere in the country.
“Authorities are getting ready to transfer a group of about 395 migrants seen as vulnerable later today to the mainland via ship,” a police official, who declined to be named, said.
The group will leave the Moria camp on the eastern Aegean island, which is close to Turkey.
Greece has been the main gateway into the EU for people fleeing conflict in the Middle East and beyond. More than a million people reached its shores from Turkey in 2015-16.
At least 110,000 people are living in migrant facilities – 40,000 of them in overcrowded camps on five islands.
“The goal is to transfer about 2,400 from island camps to mainland Greece,” a Migration Ministry official said.
Greece, which adopted lockdown measures to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus on March 23, has had 2,626 confirmed cases since its first in late February.
The death toll has been 144, significantly lower than other countries such as Italy, Spain, France and Britain.
No coronavirus cases have so far been recorded in Greek island camps. But aid groups have urged Athens to evacuate the camps, warning that the risk of the fast-moving coronavirus spreading amid squalid conditions is high.
(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Writing by George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Alexander Smith)