Greece has opened two more “closed” refugee camps.

A woman walks with children at Karatepe refugee camp, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece. Photo: AAP via AP/Panagiotis Balaskas


“A new era is beginning,” said migration minister Notis Mitarachi on Saturday at the opening of the facilities on Kos and Leros. Non-governmental and aid organisations are critical of the new camps because they’re in remote locations and the freedom of movement of those living there is restricted.

“We’re freeing our islands from the migration problem and its consequences,” the Greek minister said.

“The images we remember from 2015 to 2019 belong to the past.”

In 2015, Greece with its Aegean islands was the destination of more than a million asylum seekers, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. From Turkey they set out for Greece across the sea, seeking a better life in Europe. The island camps were badly overcrowded and notorious for the wretched living conditions in them.

The new camps are encircled by razor wire, fitted out with monitoring cameras and x-ray sets for security control as well as magnetic doors and gates kept closed at night. In contrast to the former camps the new ones have running water, toilets and more protection for the residents.

A first camp of this type was inaugurated in September, two more are to be opened on the islands Lesbos and Chios. The European Union had contributed 276 million euro for construction of the new camps.

“Today the EU is opening a new chapter of its migration policy,” Margaritis Schinas, the Greek EU vice-president told journalists.

“Europe would continue to be a place of refuge for all fleeing from dictatorship, war and persecution and it’s in our own interest to provide humane conditions.”

Latest UN estimates put the number of refugees and asylum seekers in Greece at 96,000.