The European Commission expects Greek authorities to put proper safety measures in place for a new migration camp on the Greek island of Lesvos planned in a forested area next to a landfill, a Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV.com.
The Commission granted €155 million to the Greek authorities to build new reception centres on the Greek islands of Lesvos and Chios in March 2021.
However, the remote location of the Lesvos camp, which is due to be completed by the end of 2022, has sparked concerns for the safety of the migrants to be housed there.
An activist from the NGO Lesvos Solidarity, who spoke to EURACTIV on the condition of anonymity, said the new camp’s location is concerning as it will be in a Natura Forest area and close to the island’s landfill.
“This is an abuse of Natura of course, hiding the risks of destruction from accidental fires as there is no safety assessment of the camps,” the activist said, pointing out that another worrying element is that the new camp is located just one kilometre away from a landfill.
This is also a matter of “human dignity,” according to the NGO representative, who added that the location also raises serious concerns for the integration of the migrants into the local community.
In a visit to the island of Lesvos, EURACTIV’s journalists Natasha Foote and Sarantis Michalopoulos tried to get to the new camp, but were forced to give up after several kilometres of inaccessible dirt tracks.
Commission ‘aware’ of concerns
A spokesperson for the EU executive told EURACTIV that it is aware of the concerns related to the centre’s location.
“The Commission expects that the Greek authorities, which are responsible for the safety and environmental assessment of the new facilities, will take into consideration all necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of future residents and will continue to monitor this closely within its competence,” they said.
The Commission says the Greek authorities chose the location of the new camp after careful consideration and the assessment of various options and in consultation with the local community.
“The Commission has been working closely with the Greek authorities in this process”.
The local municipal council has approved the plan, but regional governor Costas Moutzouris still opposes it.
However, due to the island’s proximity to Turkey, the need for proper first reception facilities will remain, stressed the EU spokesperson.
Contacted by EURACTIV, a source from the Greek migration ministry said Athens said they had made it clear from the beginning that the new camp would be far from the urban environment.
“The new structure will have all the necessary primary health care, as well as shops, that will be able to serve asylum seekers,” the Greek ministry source added.
Construction works have been delayed after demonstrations opposing the camp and the destruction of construction machinery in February 2022. It was initially scheduled to be finished in August 2021.
The ministry source explained there had been an “unfortunate incident with some people burning the machines”.
However, they maintained that the new camp would be operational by the end of the year.
“We are now in the stage of research on soil remediation and clearing. By the end of 2022, the new camp will be ready,” the source said.
Isolation from civilisation
The Commission spokesperson acknowledged that transportation options are not available yet as the Lesvos centre has not yet been established.
The EU executive explained that, during discussions with the Greek authorities regarding the planning and establishment of the new centre on Lesvos, it raised the importance of the availability of adequate transportation options for residents to be able to travel to and from the centre.
However, they said that, once the centre becomes operational, the EU executive expects that the Greek authorities will put arrangements in place similar to the ones in Samos, which has regular public transport to a nearby town.
(Sarantis Michalopoulos, Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)
***Video footage also taken by the UN Refugee Agency and Greek website ToNisi.gr