Greece is one of the main gateways to Europe, together with Italy and Spain in the Mediterranean region. Refugees and migrants reach Greece both through its land border with Turkey in the North and, mainly, through the Greek-Turkish sea frontier in the Aegean. During 2015, almost one million refugees and migrants arrived in Greece, in their majority viewing Greece as their first stop and as a transit country towards their final desti-nation to central and northern European states.
The EU-Turkey agreement on migration had further significant consequences in the refugee response in Greece. Since March 2016, when the deal went into effect, the vast majority of asylum seekers and migrants that arrived on the Greek islands have been restricted to the islands, often held in the “hotspots”, in places where they were designed for transit and not for long term periods of stay.
Only migrants who are considered to be “vulnerable” such as unaccompanied minors, disabled persons or persons with serious health problems, seniors, pregnant women and victims of trafficking, torture, violence or abuse, family reunification cases and those admitted to the Greek asylum system following admissibility interviews, are excluded from the scope of the EU-Turkey Agreement, so that they can ultimately be transported to mainland Greece where their special needs can actually be addressed.
However, due to the increased number of arrivals and gaps in healthcare services on the islands there is often a backlog in vulnerability assessments. As a result many migrants undergo their asylum procedure without having their vulnerability properly assessed and identified.
Arrivals during the first nine months of 2018 are 17% higher than those of 2017. 19,251 refugees and migrants are currently residing on the Aegean islands, i.e. mostly on 5 islands (Lesvos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros). Lesvos continues to shoulder the biggest number of arrivals, having received more 52% of total sea arrivals on Lesvos in 2018. The number is significant and continues to put pressure on the already overwhelmed Greek reception and asylum system. Overcrowding, inadequate and insufficient living conditions, lack of protection and insecurity, are some of the problems refugees face.
The government is trying to increase accommodation in the mainland and transferred more people from the islands. However, the number of arrivals continues to be higher than those of those transferred. Thus, urgent actions are needed to ease overcrowding and improve conditions on the islands.