Greece inaugurates first 'closed' camp for asylum seekers

It is one of five camps that human rights groups say are too restrictive

Greece on Saturday inaugurated the first of five "closed" migrant camps, which are opposed by human rights groups who say their strict access measures are too restrictive.

Barbed-wire fencing surrounds the new camp on the island of Samos. It also features surveillance cameras, X-ray scanners and magnetic doors.

The EU has committed €276 million ($323.6m) for the new camps on five Aegean islands - Leros, Lesbos, Kos, Chios as well as Samos - that receive most of the migrant arrivals by sea from neighbouring Turkey.

The Samos camp, which will serve as a pilot for the other so-called closed and controlled access facilities, has a detention centre and asylum seekers will only be able to go in by scanning their fingerprints and using electronic badges at the entrance.

Gates will remain closed at night and those who do not return before 8.00pm will face disciplinary measures.

The camp also has sports and games areas, as well as shared kitchens.

Its dormitories have five beds each and a cupboard, with shared toilets and showers, an AFP team saw.

"The new closed-controlled access centre will give back the lost dignity to people seeking international protection, but also the necessary conditions of safeguarding and restraint for illegal migrants who are to be returned," Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said at the opening.

The Leros camp is expected to be finished next month, while on Lesbos – once home to Moria, Europe's largest camp, which was destroyed by fire last year – work has yet to begin.

With better-quality accommodation, running water, toilets, separate areas for families and more security, the Greek government says the camps will meet European standards.

They replace previous facilities that became infamous for their poor living conditions.

On Samos, the facility near the port of Vathy had been designed for about 680 people but at one point was home to nearly 10 times that number.

Aid groups have raised concerns about the new camps' structure in isolated places and residents' confinement.

Last week, dozens of NGOs, including Amnesty International, accused Greece of pursuing "harmful policies focused on deterring and containing asylum seekers and refugees".

Forty-five NGOs and civil society groups urged the EU and the Greek government to abandon plans to restrict the movement of people in the camps.

In a report, they said the new structures "will impede effective identification and protection of vulnerable people, limit access to services and assistance for asylum seekers, and exacerbate the harmful effects of displacement and containment on individuals' mental health".

The UN refugee agency's representative in Greece also expressed reservations.

"The word 'closed' comes up often and this is concerning," said Mireille Girard, adding that "asylum seekers need protection".

"They are not criminals or a risk for the community. They are people who need help," she said.

"For us, camps should be open. The government has assured us that they will be."

Greece was the main point where more than one million asylum seekers entered Europe in 2015.

Updated: September 18th 2021, 4:27 PM
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