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Nine months after fire, reconstruction work has still not started at Greek migrant camp

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Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi (L) and EU commissioner for Home Affairs Sweden's Ylva Johansson
Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi (L) and EU commissioner for Home Affairs Sweden's Ylva Johansson   -   Copyright  JOHN THYS/AFP
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Essential work to restore Europe's largest refugee centre has still not started after a fire nine months ago, according to Greece's migration minister.

The rebuilding of the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesbos was supposed to have been finished before winter this year, but Notis Mitarachi confirmed that work had still not started during a trip to Brussels on Wednesday.

The Greek migration minister said that the tender process for choosing companies to build the new facility is currently underway and that obtaining the necessary licenses and environmental permits has taken time, as well as finalising EU funds.

Greek authorities said the fires at the Moria camp were started deliberately last September by migrants protesting the overcrowded living conditions.

The encampment was originally intended to host less than 3,000 people, but by the end, it held around 12,500 people and was locked down due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

The new camp is foreseen to hold up to 5,000 people.

The bloc's Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson met with the Greek migrant minister on Wednesday and said a priority must be to "make sure that we will be able to have good winter conditions for migrants".

'Beyond our control'

During his visit to Brussels, the Greek minister also discussed the contentious topic of migration flows inside the Schengen area.

France, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and Switzerland have complained that, since last year, there has been a dramatic increase of people already granted asylum by Greece moving with their Greek documents to other European countries and asking for additional asylum applications.

"Greece is doing absolutely what is expected to do under the European Regulation," Notis Mitarachi told Euronews.

"These people are travelling freely within the Schengen area as it is regulated by the Schengen acquis. Legal residents of the European Union, those that have been granted protection are entitled to travel within Schengen. The fact that some people have overtaken their Schengen right of stay and that has reached the domestic calls in Germany, that's an issue beyond our control."

The European Commission has put forward a comprehensive pact on migration and asylum but progress on the file has stalled due to the deep-rooted disagreements between Southern, Northern and Eastern countries, all of which have divergent - even incompatible - opinions on how the bloc should manage and allocate new arrivals.

A group of Mediterranean EU countries, the so-called Med5 (Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Malta), have written to the Portuguese government, which chairs the Council's six-month rotating presidency, in an attempt to break the deadlock on the negotiations around the European Asylum Support Office (EASO).

Reforming EASO while leaving other matters unresolved represents an important volte-face from the Southern group, which has so far defended a "package approach" to migration talks, saying that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed".

The agreement in principle would strengthen EASO's mandate and turn it into a formal EU agency with powers to assess asylum application and decide who should be sent back home.

"We would like to ask all the member states, the Council, the Parliament and the Commission to also help and work with us in reaching compromises for the new pact providing a strong external dimension, providing a solidarity mechanism that would prevent the pressure from line exclusively on the frontline states and also a mechanism that would allow more efficient returns from the EU for those not entitled to international protection to the countries of origin," Mitarachi added.