Greek island mayors press government to lighten migrants overload

Protesters shout slogans outside the Municipality of Mytilene during a rally on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos Greece on Wednesday Jan. 2

Greek islanders strike against migrant camps

Governors and mayors from the region plan to travel to Athens on Thursday to present their demand to the government.

A year ago the Greek government pledged to shut overcrowded refugee camps on its outlying islands and replace them with more restrictive holding centers, in a marked hardening of its stance toward asylum seekers.

The Moria camp on Lesbos, set up to accommodate 3,000 people, hosts at least five times that number. About 6,000 people joined a protest on Lesbos and another 2,000 demonstrated on Samos. Global aid officials have strongly criticized the living conditions at some Greek island camps.

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Almost 75,000 people crossed illegally to European Union member Greece from Turkey in 2019, according to the United Nations refugee agency, an increase of almost 50% from the previous year. Island authorities are urging the government to step up migrant transfers to the Greek mainland.

Trade unionists and regional lawmakers demanded that the Greek government immediately transport the thousands of migrants stranded at camps to the mainland after registration.

Residents of the islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos on Wednesday held public protests against what they said is the negative impact of the migration crisis on their communities and on North Aegean islands at large, which is home to the most congested reception and identification facilities - also known as hotspots.

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"We see many children suffering diabetes, asthma, heart disease, who are forced to live in tents, in abysmal, unhygienic conditions, with no access to the specialized medical care and medication they need", said Hilde Vochten, MSF's medical coordinator in Greece.

While not joining the strike, Greek police and coast guard associations on the three islands issued statements in support of the protests.

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