'After the explosion': Migrant arrivals plummet in Greece

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By Euronews  with AP
Jan. 3, 2016 file photo, refugees and migrants disembark on a beach after crossing a part of the Aegean sea from Turkey.
Jan. 3, 2016 file photo, refugees and migrants disembark on a beach after crossing a part of the Aegean sea from Turkey.   -   Copyright  Santi Palacios/AP

The number of migrants arriving in Greece has dropped significantly over the last two years, according to the country's migration minister. 

Speaking at an event celebrating the launch of his ministry on Tuesday, Notis Mitarachi said the migration policies of Greece's right-wing government were behind the fall, including increased border security, faster asylum procedures and a tightening of migration laws.

Greece has been widely accused of expelling people as soon as they reach Greek soil, without allowing them to apply for asylum, in a practice known as pushbacks. 

Pushbacks are illegal under international law, with many migrants and rights groups claiming they often involve high degrees of violence and force -- something Greece denies. 

The number of asylum-seekers living in the southern European country has also fallen, according to Mitarachi. 

He said that Greece saw the lowest number of arrivals in a decade in 2021, putting the figure at under 9,000 people. 

At the height of the Greek migration crisis, hundreds of thousands of people arrived on Greek islands or crossed the land border with Turkey, in what was the largest influx of refugees to Europe since World War Two.

The vast majority of these people wanted to head onward to wealthier European countries, such UK, France and Germany. 

“After the explosion in the period 2015-2019, in 2021 we had the lowest flows of the decade, 8,745, and steadily low in 2022 too” Mitarachi said. “The result is that instead of 92,000 asylum seekers living in 121 facilities, we have today 14,000 in 33 facilities.”

The UN's refugee agency has slightly different figures, listing a total of 9,157 arrivals in Greece in 2021, with roughly half coming from the sea and the other half across land.

For 2022, the UNCHR office's figures show a total of 18,778 new arrivals in Greece: 12,756 by sea and 6,022 by land.

In 2015, Mitarachi said, arrivals in Greece accounted for 75% of the total number of irregular arrivals in the European Union, while in 2022 that figure stood at just 5%. 

He added that Greece was also amending legislation to attract workers through legal migration for employment.

“The migration issue doesn’t end. And it is at the same time a challenge and a need. Our country is implementing a strict but fair migration policy,” he said. 

“With an emphasis on migration with rules, criteria, agreements, in accordance with our needs. But we stand firmly against smuggling rings and illegal migration.”

Greece has been accused by rights groups of pushing migrants back across the large, fast-flowing river that separates the country from Turkey. 

Migrants have reportedly been left on small islands within the river in appalling conditions.

Greek officials strenuously deny this occurs.