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  • Rory O'Keeffe

Yiannis Mouzalas: misleading the world on refugee numbers

Greece’s Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas admits Greece is finding the refugee situation ‘more difficult to manage’ as numbers of refugees crossing the Aegean have increased in the last two months.

He described the situation at Chios as ‘bad’ and Lesvos as ‘very bad’ (as the overcrowding at Leros is worse than at Chios, and at Samos more than twice as bad* as Lesvos, it would be interesting to see where he believes the two fit on that ‘scale’).

It certainly is true to say that the number of people arriving on the Greek islands from Turkey has increased in September and October.

In September, an average of 143.6 people arrived per day: 4,310 people arrived in total.

In October, an average of 130 people arrived each day: a total of 4,034.

In the rest of the year as a whole, 15,955 people arrived, an average of 65.6 per day. In August, the month in which the next highest number (3,584) arrived, the daily average was 115.

And in July, 2009 people arrived, 64 per day on average.


It is worth noting that when Mouzalas claims that the number of people arriving ‘more than doubled’, he is correct, but he is deliberately using figures not for Greece, but for entries to the EU as a whole.

It is reasonable to point out that asylum services and border teams might be stretched as a result, and it is also reasonable to claim that the majority of that increase has come in Greece (perhaps because of greater EU efforts to stop people travelling from North Africa to Italy, including by some deeply immoral and suspect methods, such as helping the Libyan coastguard shoot boats out of the water).

But it is simply incorrect to pretend that the number of people to have arrived in Greece in September was an average of 214 people per day, because this would mean that more than 2,000 more people had arrived in September than actually did: the difference between Mouzalas’ claim of 214 per day and the actual figure of 143.6 per day is the difference between 6,420 people having arrived in September, and the actual figure of 4,310.

And this is absolutely vital, because it means that the Greek Migration Minister has pretended that close to 50 per cent more people arrived in Greece than actually arrived, and is using that as the excuse for the abominable living conditions on the Greek islands, and across the mainland.

We should also note that ‘a relatively high number of new arrivals’ (and 4,310 in September and 4,030 in October is a relatively high number) is not an excuse for the absolutely atrocious conditions in which people are being forced to live in the EU, in the 21st Century. Where, for example, there is water and electricity only a couple of hours per day.

Mouzalas has insisted from the start of the refugee response that the Greek government – and in particular his ministry – was capable of ‘managing’ the refugee response, and that foreign agencies were a nuisance to the effort.

Since 31 July, the Greek government (Mouzalas’ department in particular) has had full control over all funding relating to the Aegean islands’ response, and the result has been the non-renewal of humanitarian agencies’ contracts, even as the humanitarian crisis continues (Yiatri Tou Kosmou, for example had its 15 person medical team on the island replaced with two doctors and a nurse. There are more than 7,900 people at Kara Tepe and Moria).

The fact is, that if you insist you can handle a crisis, demand control and are then given it, you cannot then pretend that your refusal to plan for different scenarios (for example, last Winter being cold, a higher number of people than you expected arriving in two of the last ten months) and your refusal to move people from the detention centres in which some of them have now been trapped for more than 19 months, is the fault of someone, or something, other than yourself.

But most importantly here, the Migration Minister of Greece has told the media that the number of refugees who have arrived in the whole of Europe, is in fact the number to have arrived only in Greece.

He told Reuters that 148,084 people had arrived in Greece in 2017, so far, when in fact the figure is 24,299 for Greece (less than a fifth of the number he said), and 148,084 for the EU in total.

And he is arguing that 50 per cent more people have arrived in the last two months than actually arrived, and that this, rather than his own poor planning, is the reason people are being treated as less than human on the Aegean islands.

*(in terms of overcrowding rates – there are fewer refugees {2,418} on Samos, but its capacity {850} is less than a quarter of Lesvos’.

Lesvos has more than twice as many refugees, 7,957, as its capacity, 3,500, according to government estimates – if fact the number of people there is closer to 9,000 – but Samos has almost four times more people than its capacity)

Figures for Greece

Total number of people to have crossed the Mediterranean, 1 January–1 November 2017: 154,280

Of which (arrivals in);

  • Italy: 116,600

  • Greece: 24,413

  • Spain: 12,240

  • Cyprus: 847

Total deaths on the Mediterranean so far this year (to 2 November): 2,087

Arrivals (to Greece) in:

  • July: 2,009

  • August: 3,584

  • September: 4,310

  • October: 4,034

Average number of new arrivals in Greece by day, to 1 November 2017: 77.5

Average number of new arrivals in Greece, per day, to 1 August 2017: 65.6

Average number of new arrivals in Greece by day, in:

  • July: 64

  • August: 115

  • September: 143.6

  • October: 130

Aegean island detention centres. (format - Capacity; current population)

  • Lesvos (two centres); 3,500; 7,957

  • Chios (one centre, one closed; Souda, 24 October); 1,200; 2,197

  • Samos; 850; 2,418

  • Leros; 1,000; 1,010

  • Kos; 1,000; 1,162

(Note that government estimates are widely regarded by those ‘in the field’ as underestimates by one-two in every ten people at present. Therefore there may be as many as 1,600 more people in Lesvos, than the Greek government estimates...)

Number of empty buildings in Greece (according to the Hellenic Valuation Institute): 500,000.

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