According to local Greek media reports, Greece’s Alternate Migration Minister Giorgos Koumoutsakos, accompanied by Armin Laschet, the state premier of Germany’s West Rhine-Westphalia region, was stopped from entering the Moria refugee camp on Tuesday due to unrest at the facility.
The German state premier was supposed to have toured the facility with Alternate Minister Koumoutsakos to view the state of affairs at the beleaguered camp, which is housing far more than its capacity of refugees and migrants.
There has been unrest at the camp many times in the past, including marches and demonstrations as well as fires being set by the residents, who are unhappy with their living conditions there.
According to local and German media reports, the officials were barred from entering on Tuesday because there was a gathering of “dozens” of migrants at the camp, who had already begun to chant slogans, including “Free Moria!” in anticipation of the visit.
It is believed that the migrants had thought that the German official was actually the Prime Minister of the country.
Earlier, at a meeting held at Koumoutsakos’ office, the two officials had discussed the current state of affairs concerning unchecked migration across the Greek border.
In a reflection of the current pandemic as well as increasing tightening of the borders in Greece, the country has seen far fewer migrants and others crossing into Greece from Turkey in the past several months, according to Minister Koumoutsakos.
In a report from the Reuters news agency, Koumoutsakos was quoted as saying that there have been only a few hundred such individuals arriving in Greece through its border with Turkey since the Spring.
Turkey is still “a difficult and unpredictable neighbor that controls a pool of four million migrants and refugees,” Koumoutsakos told Reuters, adding “No one can rule out that it will attempt to use (them) at another instance.”
Back in March, there had been a series of riots at Greece’s Evros border, with demonstrators being bussed to the gates and throngs of young men trying to scale the chain-link fence division Greece and Turkey. Tear gas and fireworks were also tossed over the fence from the Turkish side in an effort to overwhelm the Greek police.
Reinforcements were quickly brought in from other European Union states to buttress the Greek border forces in their weeks-long efforts to stop illegal border crossings.
According to Reuters, Koumoutsakos stated in the meeting with Laschet on Tuesday “The reduced flow won’t allow us to rest. On the contrary, it imposes the (need) for continued vigilance.”
During the peak migration years of 2015-2016, more than one million people swarmed across the Greek seas and land borders to the European Union from Turkey. From April to July of 2019, a total of 12,363 people were recorded landing on Greek shores and at other border crossings.
The numbers of migrants for the same period this year, after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, came to just 850. However, tens of thousands of migrants who had previously made it into the country are now stuck in the island refugee camps, with Moria the largest of them all.
This year, the Greek government began transporting migrants from some of the most overcrowded camps to enclosed facilities on the mainland. The camps on the islands are not enclosed and migrants freely roam the towns on the islands.
The Reuters report quoted Koumoutsakos as saying before the pair headed to Lesvos “There will be strict controls but they are not prisons. Greece does not build prisons. It’s a democratic European state which protects its borders as well as human rights.”