Greece is to create a single border surveillance agency and employ 1,200 more guards to “shut the door" on migrants not entitled to stay — a hardening of its stance amid a new surge in arrivals.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament he was upgrading sea patrols with 10 new speedboats.
“Welcome in Greece are only those we choose,” he said. “Those who are not welcome will be returned. We will permanently shut the door to illegal human traffickers, to those who want to enter even though they are not entitled to asylum."
Greece was the main gateway into the European Union for more than a million people fleeing conflict in 2015-16.
Migrant and refugee arrivals from neighbouring Turkey have risen again, and more than 37,000 people are crammed into facilities on islands which operate far beyond their capacity.
”Greece has its strengths, but it is not an unfenced vineyard,” Mitsotakis told parliament, using a Greek expression meaning the country is not open to anyone. “Those days are gone.”
Mitsotakis’ government announced on Wednesday that it wants to move up to 20,000 asylum seekers out of sprawling island camps such as Moria and onto the mainland by the end of the year and expects that new facilities will be ready by July 2020.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) raised concerns over the new centres, telling Euronews that the new facilities would amount to detention centres.
Human rights groups have also criticised a new framework to speed up the processing of asylum requests as a "rushed" attempt that would impede access to a fair asylum process for refugees.
However, Mitsotakis said on Friday that the new structures would be secure, and that “human conditions with decent living spaces will prevail inside”.
He added: “Gradually, Moria's shameful scenes will disappear. And they will be replaced by images of modern, properly functioning installations.”
As Mitsotakis was speaking in Athens, Greece’s Coast Guard said it had rescued 400 refugees and migrants in previous 24 hours in 10 different incidents in the sea area near the city Alexandroupolis and the islands of Lesvos and Chios.
Authorities also arrested three people believed to be migrant traffickers.
Meanwhile, two ferries carrying 96 refugees and migrants from the islands of Chios, zeros and Kos arrived at the port of Piraeus on Friday morning, as part of the government’s efforts to shrink the migrant camps.
Separately, officials in North Macedonia said a police patrol detained a group of 33 migrants found walking through the southern part of the country, near its border with Greece.
Police said the group consisted of 21 Afghan nationals, seven Pakistanis, three Iraqis and two Iranians.
Although the Balkan route followed by migrants trying to reach Europe’s prosperous heartland has been closed since 2016, thousands still use it. They usually pay large sums to smuggling gangs to illegally get them through the closed borders.