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GREECE will shut down overcrowded refugee camps on islands and replace them with tight-security holding facilities, officials announced today.
The three centres on the islands of Chios, Samos and Lesbos currently house about 36,400 people under poor conditions which have been criticised by human rights groups and the Council of Europe.
Hundreds of families are sleeping in tents outside official facilities on the five islands as winter approaches, as the camps nominally have a capacity of only 4,500.
Greece’s special coordinator for migration, Alkiviadis Stefanis, a former army general, said: “Decongesting the islands is a priority at this stage.”
Instead of being allowed to move freely in and out of the camps, asylum seekers will now be locked up until they are granted refugee status and relocated to the mainland.
If rejected they will be sent back to Turkey, according to officials.
The crackdown follows a pledge by Greece’s newly formed conservative government, which came to power in July, to relocate thousands of asylum seekers to camps on the mainland by early 2020.
The government has already passed a law strengthening asylum requirements for migrants and refugees and has promised to deploy additional border patrols.
Mr Stefanis, who is also Greece’s deputy defence minister, said that new criteria would be issued for the operation of NGOs helping refugees and migrants.
He said: “Only those [NGOs] that meet the requirements will stay and continue to operate in the country,” said Stefanis.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis this week accused the EU of treating countries on the bloc’s external frontiers as convenient places to park migrants and said he “will no longer accept this.”
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