Greek Navy ship becomes temporary migrant camp

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Athens: A Greek Navy vessel, more accustomed to ferrying armored vehicles, has become a temporary floating refugee camp off the island of Lesbos, where tensions have erupted over a surge in migrant arrivals.

Hundreds of refugees and migrants who decided to attempt the journey over the sea from Turkey to the Greek islands after Ankara opened the border waited in the open throughout Wednesday before they were allowed to board.

A spokesperson for the Greek Migration Ministry told Efe news that the ship would remain in the port of Mytilene for a few days, although it was not clear what would happen with the families aboard.

The migrant crisis has come to light after Ankara directed thousands of Syrian refugees towards Turkey’s border with the European Union (EU) last week.

In a bid to bring the situation under control, the Greek government has enacted several emergency measures, including a month-long suspension of the asylum claim system, which has been criticized by UN agencies.

“Neither the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees nor EU refugee law provides any legal basis for the suspension of the reception of asylum applications,” the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said in a statement after the decision was announced.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is pushing to separate recent arrivals to Greek shores from the 20,000 refugees and asylum seekers already living in woeful conditions in the camps on Lesbos.

The Moria camp on Lesbos, the largest in Europe, has become the focus of attention and the site of violent protests in recent days as some anti-immigration groups scuffled with refugees, NGO workers, and journalists.

Kindergartens and schools on the island have been temporarily closed due to the tensions and threat of clashes.

The Naval vessel docked in Mytilene has kept some 500 recent migrant arrivals from entering Moria.

The Moria camp would no longer be accepting new arrivals and those who do make it to Greek shores in the coming days would either be transferred to the mainland or deported.

Just over 1,500 people have made it to the Aegean Island since Turkey de facto scrapped its migrant deal with the EU.

According to the UNHCR, some 8,400 people have entered Greece this year, the majority by sea.

March 5 (IANS)

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