More migrants are now leaving Greece than arriving, according to Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis, who announced recently that the influx of people to the Aegean Islands has decreased significantly over the past year.
Mitarakis made his remarks as part of an address last Wednesday during a conference with fellow migration policy leaders on the progress of negotiations with the EU on the new Pact on Migration and Asylum.
“In 2021 the flows of refugees and migrants to our islands have decreased by 89% compared to 2020,” Mitarakis told the attendees.
Only 925 people arrived on Lesvos and the other Greek Aegean Islands between January 1 and April 11 this year according to the latest UNHCR data. This is in striking contrast to the floods of migrants and asylum seekers who came to Greek shores every year since 2015, when the most recent migrant wave began.
A total of 7,591 people arrived during the same period in 2020 — the majority of all arrivals who came to Greece last year, after the pandemic put a stop to much of the traffic.
“The vast majority of asylum applications do not end up in an asylum examination,” Mitarakis explained, “because those who have submitted the application do not actually appear at their interviews. Many refugees decide to try and leave of their own accord for central and western Europe.”
Some Greek islands received no migrants at all in last twelve months
“In some islands that we had a problem with in the past, there has not even been one report on an arrival for months,” Minister Mitarakis revealed.
The Greek islands of Samos and the Dodecanese Islands, just off the coast of Turkey, have recorded zero arrivals so far this year, with Chios and Kos receiving only 99 individuals making their way onto their shores.
The Minister noted that the vast majority of people so far this year have arrived on the Greek island of Lesvos, where the infamous Moria refugee camp once stood, now home to the new Kara Tepe camp.
“This has allowed us to close at least 70 structures on the mainland so far, while we have decongested our islands without the new structures that are being built,” stated Mitarakis.
According to the UN’s High Commission for Refugees, or UNHCR, 1,851 people left the Greek islands for the mainland just between March 8 and April 11 of 2021.
Close to 15,000 people still remain on the islands, however; the majority of these individuals are from Afghanistan, at 49%; Syria, at 16%; and Somalia, at 8%. Women currently account for nearly one-quarter, or 21%, of the islands’ migrant population.
Mitarakis noted in his address “In the last 12 months, more people have left the country legally, with deportations, voluntary departures, or relocations.” A total of 7,300 arrived during that period, according to the figures he gave, while 11,500 left in the last 12 months.
56,000 migrants, refugees currently in facilities across the country
“In all of the accommodation facilities we now have 56,000, while a year ago that number was 92,000,” Mitarakis told the conference attendees. “There are about 60,000 recognized refugees in our country, fewer than what the public believes,” he added.
According to the latest UNHCR data, more than 90,000 refugees — and more than 80,000 asylum seekers were living in Greece as of this February. However, the UNHCR admitted that the actual number of recognized refugees who are actually present in Greece “may be lower.”
“We have regained control”
“The picture has changed radically,” Mitarakis told the audience, adding “We have regained control, the flows of people are steadily declining, island decongestion has progressed significantly. At the same time we are reducing the burden on the hinterlands.”
However, the Migration Minister admitted that “the ongoing refugee crisis remains a topical issue, which will affect Greece and the wider EU for decades to come.”
Mitarakis explained that Greece and the other “Med 5” countries, including Italy, Spain, Malta and Cyprus, have attempted to come up with what he called a new “European Framework,” which he termed “particularly important.”
Issues that Mitarakis believes are paramount include achieving the practical solidarity of the EU as a whole for a common European system with an equal share of responsibility between member states.
He also said that protecting Greece’s borders, which are also the EU’s external borders, is vital, along with the creation of a common European return mechanism.
He also stated that supporting and cooperating with migrants’ countries of origin and the transit of migrants was important.
Lastly, the Migration Minister concluded that there must be a full implementation of the agreement between the EU and Turkey regarding the return of migrants, which was signed in mid-2016.