Greek officials and U.N. workers began evacuating hundreds of migrants from the Greek island of Lesbos Monday, where overcrowding and the crushing heat have made conditions unbearable.
A first group of 635 Afghans at the Moria camp were transferred early Monday towards the north of Greece, scrambling into police buses under the supervision of U.N. refugee agency workers.
“I hope to get out of this hell quickly,” 21-year-old Mohamed Akberi, who arrived at the camp five days earlier, told AFP.
The migrants were taken onto a ship, the Caldera Vista, bound for the port of Thessaloniki on mainland Greece.
Another 700 migrants are due to be transferred later Monday, under a decision taken by the Greek government at an emergency meeting Saturday.
The government agreed on the emergency transfer of the migrants, prioritising unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable people. But they also agreed to do away with the appeal procedures for asylum seekers to facilitate their swift return to Turkey.
In Skala Sykamineas, a small fishing village at the north end of the Greek island of Lesbos, locals fear the arrival of 500 migrants on Thursday may signal a repeat of the 2015 migrant crisis https://t.co/JEY7WVNjDE
— AFP news agency (@AFP) August 31, 2019
Greece will also step up border patrols with the help of the E.U. border control agency Frontex. AFP journalists could see regular Greek police boat patrols off the island.
There has been growing tension between the two countries over the steady flow of migrants arriving on the Greek islands in the Aegean, which lie just off the Turkish coast.
After the E.U. signed an agreement with Turkey in March 2016, tighter checks made access to the Greek islands from Turkey more difficult. But in recent months, nearly a hundred people on average have managed to make the crossing every day.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said that the island of Lesbos was sheltering nearly 11,000 people at the end of August — four times its capacity.
In August alone, more than 3,000 people had arrived there, said the agency.
And last Thursday, 13 boats carrying 540 people, 240 of the children, arrived at the island — an unprecedented surge in arrivals that has alarmed the relatively new conservative government.
Migrants at the Moria camp have complained that the hygiene conditions are sub-standard and that there are no tents for the new arrivals.