ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece said on Friday it was deploying more border guards to “shut the door” to migrants not entitled to stay, the latest sign of a hardening stance against asylum seekers since a new surge in the number of arrivals.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament he had approved the hiring of 400 guards at Greece’s land border with Turkey and another 800 guards for its islands. Greece will also upgrade its sea patrolling operations, he said.
On Wednesday, the conservative government elected in July announced plans to shut overcrowded refugee camps on islands and replace them with more restrictive holding centres.
“Welcome in Greece are only those we choose. Those who are not welcomed will be returned,” Mitsotakis said. “We will permanently shut the door to illegal human traffickers, to those who want to enter although 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.
The government wants to move up to 20,000 people to 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 on Friday, saying they may provide better living conditions but could eventually turn into prisons for people who seek safety and are already trapped “in an endless drama”.
“The detention centres, the closed centres…may become prisons at the end of the day, and will not treat people as humans. They will treat them as problems,” MSF president Christos Christou told reporters.
People detained there will not have the freedom to exit the facilities, he said, while non-governmental organisations will have no access inside.
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.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Lefteris Papadimas, Editing by Timothy Heritage)