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Brussels allocates €276 million to Greece for migrant camps on its islands

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By Euronews with AP
EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson, left, listens to an asylum seeker at a refugee camp in the port of Vathy on the eastern Aegean island of Samos, Greece, March 29, 2021.
EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson, left, listens to an asylum seeker at a refugee camp in the port of Vathy on the eastern Aegean island of Samos, Greece, March 29, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Michael Svarnias
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The European Union is to give a total of €276 million for the renovation and construction of migrant camps on Greek islands.

The announcement was made by Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson on Monday following meetings with local officials on the islands of Samos and Lesbos.

Johansson and Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi also toured an overcrowded camp on Lesbos and a new facility under construction on Samos.

The camp on Lesbos was hastily erected following the devastating fire in the island's overcrowded Moria camp last year. More than 3,000 people live in tents, despite the camp being originally built to house fewer than 650. Residents have complained of poor sanitation and electricity problems.

Following the September 2020 blaze, the EU unlocked €121 million for the construction of three smaller reception centres on the islands of Samos, Kos, and Lesbos to be completed by September 2021.

An additional €155 million will be dedicated to building reception centres on Lesbos and Chios, Johnasson said.

But the new camps have been opposed by the local population. A new protest against the camps was held today in Lesbos in front of the regional governor's office.

Miratachi said the authorities "understand the point of view of the people on the islands. They've experienced a lot of pressure over the last few years".

He added however that the construction of "a new type of camp" will put "less pressure on the local community" and "make a lot of difference".

On Samos, the new camp being constructed is far from the main port town of Vathy. Unlike the current camp, the new facility will be closed, meaning access to and from the camp will be restricted.

The Greek minister also "strongly" denied allegations from refugee rights organisations and numerous asylum seekers that Greek coast guards had carried out pushbacks at sea.

Johansson called for every member state to establish an "independent monitoring mechanism" to investigate accusations of wrongdoings, stressing that "there should be consequences."

"We need to protect our external borders and we need to protect fundamental rights," she said.

The commissioner stressed that the number of migrants currently living in facilities on Greek islands has gone down to below 40,000 from 44,000 last year. She described the figure as "still not satisfying" but said the bloc is "making huge improvements on this."

"Things are going in the right direction quite quickly," she added.

Brussels unveiled its proposal for a Migration Pact last September to alleviate the burden southern member states are currently under with a system of "obligatory but flexible solidarity".

Under this mechanism, member states would be obliged to take in a certain number of migrants — based on the country's population and total GDP — or failing that to sponsor the return of a person denied the right to stay on behalf of another member state.

Furthermore, while current regulation stipulates that a person can only claim asylum in the first EU member state they enter, the new pact would make it possible for them to demand another member state handle their case if they have a relative there.