Tue, 25 Jan 2022

ATHENS, Nov. 27 (Xinhua) -- Two EU-funded refugee reception centers were inaugurated on Saturday on the Greek islands of Kos and Leros to improve conditions for the thousands of asylum seekers reaching Greece.

"Today the European Union is turning a page in its migration policy. We are turning a page with more humane, European quality structures for identification and for reception, structures and centers that reflect our values," Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Promoting the European Way of Life, said during the event on Kos island.

"We deliver modern structures, safe for the residents, the employees and the local community," said Notis Mitarachi, Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, according to an e-mailed press release by the ministry.

"Greece is implementing a strict, but fair migration policy," he added, urging EU member states along Schinas to reach consensus on the proposed EU pact for migration and asylum tabled by the European Commission a few months ago.

The two new closed controlled access centers which are added to the new centers launched lately on Samos, Chios and Lesvos islands, will start operating in early 2022.

The budget for the construction on the facilities on Leros and Kos amounted to about 75 million euros (85 million U.S. dollars) total and was fully covered by the European Union - Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund / Emergency Assistance, according to the press release.

The two new centers can accommodate a total of 2,980 people, including unaccompanied minors and persons belonging to vulnerable groups hosted in facilities according to criteria.

The centers also include detention centers for those who are not eligible for asylum.

The five Aegean Sea islands have been at the forefront of refugee, migration flows since 2015.

More than a million people reached Greece since then and most continued their journey to other European countries until the winter of 2016, when borders along the Balkan route to central Europe, were closed.

The influx has declined dramatically in recent years, but still thousands risk their lives to cross into Europe. As reception centers are no longer overflowing as in the past, with the support of the EU, Greece has made efforts to upgrade facilities for new arrivals.

During the first ten months of 2021, a total of 7,242 new arrivals were recorded by Greek authorities, according to data released earlier this month by the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum.

Currently about 38,000 asylum seekers are hosted in state-run facilities, while this year 9,794 individuals were deported, returned to their countries of origin voluntarily or relocated to other countries, according to the ministry. (1 euro= 1.13 U.S. dollars)

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