Greece starts decongesting refugee camp on Lesvos island

Greek authorities on Monday started a new round of efforts aiming to decongest the refugee-migrant camp of Moria on Lesvos island by transferring hundreds of asylum seekers to the mainland.

At least 1,400 people boarded two vessels to resettle in reception facilities in northern Greece, according to an e-mailed press release from Greece’s Citizen Protection Ministry.

The step is part of a wider government plan to ease pressure on the northern Aegean Sea islands, which have recorded increased influx from Turkey’s coast lately.

On a single day in August, some 500 people landed on Greek shores on boats from Turkey, according to Greek Coast Guard data. The flows have hit a high record since spring 2016, when the EU-Turkey agreement was sealed to stem the influx of refugees and migrants.

Prior to the agreement, from the start of 2015 Greece was recording thousands of arrivals per day. More than one million people crossed the Aegean, and hundreds perished in the waters, trying to seek refuge in Europe from wars and extreme poverty.

Most continued their journey to Europe until the closure of borders along the Balkan route in the winter of 2016.

Some 70,000 remain stranded in Greece with arrivals spiking in recent months, official statistics from Greek authorities indicated.

Due to delays in asylum procedures and relocation to other European Union countries, reception centers in Greece have exceeded their limits despite similar decongestion efforts made in the past two years.

Moria camp on Lesvos has a total capacity of fewer than 4,000 people and currently hosts almost triple the amount.

The situation is better in the mainland. Nonetheless, local authorities, NGOs and residents living close to camps established mostly in former military bases, where thousands of asylum seekers are housed in air-conditioned containers or tents, still complain of problems such as water connection and garbage collection.