Greece transfers nearly 400 migrants from Lesbos island to mainland

Brussels asks Athens to ship asylum seekers amid coronavirus fears

Migrants stand on a deck of a ship bound for Piraeus at the port of Mytilene, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, on Sunday, May 3, 2020. Greek authorities are moving 400 migrants, mostly families, to the mainland to help ease overcrowded conditions at the camp. The migrants will arrive in the port of Piraeus on two passenger ships Monday morning. (AP Photo/Panagiotis Balaskas)

Greece is transferring hundreds of migrants from a refugee camp on the island of Lesbos to the mainland to ease overcrowding amid fears around the coronavirus pandemic.

The 392 migrants will leave the island in the Aegean Sea on Sunday evening and will arrive at Piraeus port in Athens on Monday morning.

Since the early 2000s, thousands of asylum seekers have been seeking refuge on Lesbos.

There are 2,380 members of vulnerable groups there who have or are due to move. Lesbos confirmed its first case of Covid-19 in early March.

Greece imposed a lockdown on March 23 to curb its coronavirus epidemic.

As of Sunday, Greece had 2,626 confirmed cases of the virus and 144 people have died from it – much fewer than countries such as Italy, France, Spain and the UK.

The EU has asked Greece to move the people in the camp most at risk of contacting the coronavirus.

But the Greek government initially mainly opposed this, saying the virus was not in the camps but was spreading elsewhere around the country.

Authorities are now co-operating. Many migrants in the camps live in squalid and overcrowded conditions, where social distancing is impossible.
Apostolos Veizis, head of mission in Greece for Doctors without Borders (MSF), said last month that in the Moria camp there was one water point for 1,300 people, one toilet for every 167 people and one shower for every 200 people.

Greece is the main gateway to Europe for thousands of migrants fleeing conflict from Middle East and Central Asia.

Most of them arrive in boats from Turkey. The height of the crisis was in 2015 and 2016, where more than a million people reached Greek shores.

In February, Greece said it would build new camps to accommodate 20,000 asylum seekers, who would be able to stay for a maximum of three months.

An estimated 37,000 migrants live in grim conditions on five Greek islands. More than 110,000 people are living in migrant centres.

Human Rights Watch said last month that Greek authorities had not done enough to address overcrowding in the camps and lack of heath care, clean water and sanitation.