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4th Jul 2020

EU offers Greek island migrants €2,000 to go home

  • Moria in Lesbos is designed to house under 3,000 people - but has almost 20,000 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers (Photo: Save the Children)

Up to 5,000 migrants stuck on the Greek islands will be given €2,000 each if they agree to go home.

The plan, announced Thursday (12 March) in Athens by EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, is part of a wider effort to decongest the overcrowded camps, officially termed as hotspots.

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"For a period of one month we will open the opportunity for migrants at the Greek islands, at the overcrowded camps, to sign up for voluntary returns and give additional money of €2,000 to help to reintegrate in their country," she said.

But the plan won't be launched immediately and could take up to three weeks to first sort the administration. The one-month deadline also only refers to people wanting to register - given the actual returns could take much longer.

The project will be carried out jointly between the European Commission, the Greek authorities, and the UN's International Organization for Migration (IOM). It only applies to those who arrived on the islands before January.

Frontex, the EU's border and coast guard agency, will also be part of return exercise. When it comes to voluntary returns from Greece, this is a first for Frontex and IOM to be working together.

The latest temporary measure is being dovetailed into an IOM scheme already launched last September that runs until August 2022 and where beneficiaries get €370.

That number has been temporarily bumped up to €2,000, funded from the some €700m recently made available to Athens by the European Commission after Turkey opened its border to Greece last month.

Another IOM voluntary return scheme in Greece - starting in 2016 and ending in 2019 - saw some 17,000 people return home, mainly to Afghanistan, Georgia, Iraq, and Pakistan.

Anyone who has claimed asylum and who wants to participate must first withdraw their application for international protection. Syrians cannot be returned.

Over-crowding and attacks

Given the overall numbers on the islands, the measure is unlikely to relieve much pressure.

As it stands, the Aegean islands host over 41,000 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, according to the latest Greek government figures.

Of those, just over 21,000 are on the Greek island of Lesbos with the vast majority of them crammed into Moria, a camp designed for only 2,840.

First set up some four years ago under the aegis of the European Commission, the camps have since been described as some of the worst in the world by the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees.

Many in Moria are deprived of basics like hot water and medical supplies. Food shortages have also been reported with some stuck for well over two years.

At least one case of coronavirus has also been reported on Lesbos, affecting a local resident. A spokesperson at the European Commission said they were not aware of any cases in and around the camps.

Johansson herself was recently unable to respond to questions on why conditions have been so persistently terrible over the years.

But some of the islanders, who had at first welcomed the asylum seekers, have since turned on recent arrivals with incidents of violence also cited against NGOs and journalists.

Meanwhile, Johansson also announced seven EU states have agreed to relocate 1,600 unaccompanied minors from Greece.

These include Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal.

Other plans include a conference in May to figure out how to best help children and teenage refugees and asylum seekers, she said.

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