Greece Shifts Migrants from Overcrowded Islands to Mainland

The transfer of migrants from overcrowded camps on the islands to the Greek mainland continued over the weekend, with authorities saying 415 arrived at the port of Eleusis west of Athens Saturday afternoon and another 380 expected around noon Sunday.

The migrants had been living on the island of Lesbos, at the Moria camp where almost 15,000 migrants still live in a space designed for 3,000. They were being transported by Greek Navy ships usually used to transport tanks.

A senior government official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about certain aspects of government policy told The Associated Press that the government plans to move 5,000 migrants to the mainland over the next 15 days.

The official said the migrants will be housed in hotels, as the peak tourist season is over. He said some parts of the mainland, such as northern Greece, will be exempted because there are many migrant camps, or hotspots, there already.

He added that the government would cap the number of migrants at 0.8 percent of the local population per prefecture. He did not mention whether more permanent locations would be used in the future.

Greece is divided into 54 prefectures, but about half of them would be exempted from the migrant resettlement scheme, including all islands.

Several of Greece's eastern islands, all close to the Turkish coast, as well as the land border with Turkey in the northeast, are migrants' preferred entry points.

The large presence of migrants on those islands - about 35,000 in all - has aroused the hostility of parts of the local population. Local authorities complain the islands are turning into dumping grounds for migrants while the processing of asylum requests is very slow and expulsions of those deemed ineligible for asylum very few. The government has promised to speed up both processes.

Early Saturday, inhabitants of the eastern island of Kos, led by their mayor, prevented 75 migrants from disembarking from a regularly scheduled passenger ship that had picked them up from the remote island of Kastellorizo.

The municipality had blocked the landing with tractors and other vehicles. The mayor said that the government should transfer some of the 4,500 migrants already on the island instead of sending new ones.

by via Voice of America - English