Greece opens the first of five new “closed” immigrant camps on Saturday, opposed by rights groups who say the strict access measures are too restrictive.
Barbed wire fences surround the new camp on the island of Samos, which is also set up with surveillance cameras, X-ray scanners and magnetic gates.
The EU has committed € 276 million ($ 326 million) to new camps on Greece’s five Aegean islands (Leros, Lesbos, Kos, Chios and Samos) that receive the majority of migrant arrivals by sea since the neighboring Turkey.
The Samos camp, which will serve as a pilot for the other so-called closed and controlled access facilities, has a detention center and will only be accessible via an electronic chip.
The doors will remain closed at night.
“The model of controlled structures will be gradually transferred to all the islands and mainland Greece,” Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said a few months ago.
The Leros camp is expected to be completed next month, while in Lesbos, home to Moria, the largest camp in Europe and destroyed by fire last year, work has yet to begin.
With better quality accommodation, running water, toilets, separate areas for families and more security, the Greek government ensures that the camps will meet European standards.
They replace previous facilities that became infamous for their living conditions.
On Samos, the facility near the port of Vathy had been designed for about 680 people but, at one point, it housed almost 10 times that number.
Up to 600 asylum seekers still live there: rats, unheated makeshift wooden barracks and the lack of toilets and showers remain part of their daily lives.
But starting Monday, residents will be moved to the new facility about five kilometers (3.1 miles) from the main town of Samos of the same name.
The old camp will be closed at the end of the month, according to the Migration Ministry.
And the Greek army will dismantle the buildings, remove the containers and decontaminate the area, which will then pass to the municipality.
“This is a promise for the local community, but also a commitment from our ministry,” Mitarachi said, responding to anger among the local community who, for years, watched the camp swell outside their village.
‘Camps should be open’
However, NGOs and aid groups have expressed concern about the structure of the new camps in isolated locations and the confinement of residents.
Last week dozens of NGOs, including Amnesty International, accused Greece of pursuing “harmful policies focused on deterring and containing asylum seekers and refugees.”
Some 45 NGOs and civil society groups urged the EU and the Greek government to abandon plans to restrict the movement of people in the camps.
In a report, they said the new structures “will impede the effective identification and protection of vulnerable people, limit access to services and assistance for asylum seekers, and exacerbate the damaging effects of displacement and containment on the mental health of people. people”.
The representative of the UN refugee agency in Greece also expressed reservations.
“The word ‘closed’ comes up often and this is worrying,” said Mireille Girard, adding that “asylum seekers need protection, they are not criminals or a risk to the community, they are people who need help.”
“For us, the camps should be open. The government has assured us that they will be.”
Greece was the main point through which more than a million asylum seekers, mainly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, entered Europe in 2015.
The crisis in Afghanistan has sparked fears of a new wave of migration.
Mitarachi said this week that the flow of newcomers had dropped by 90 percent compared to 2019.
However, humanitarian organizations say the drop is due to the systematic and illegal rejection of migrants to Turkey by the Greek authorities, which the conservative government of Greece has repeatedly denied.