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Greek Police Close Lesbos Migrant Camp After News Report

Greek Police Close Lesbos Pikpa Migrant Camp After News Report
Afghan immigrants rest in front of a store hours after landing on the island of Lesbos' on Dec. 8, 2012. Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg

Greek police closed a volunteer-run migrant camp on the island of Lesbos after Bloomberg News reported that local authorities failed to help the refugees fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria.

Undocumented immigrants living at the camp were given notice to leave Greece voluntarily within 30 days, Nicholas Ververis, a spokesman for police in Mytilene, Greece, said by phone today. More than 30 migrants are now being held at the police station, Ververis said.

Police picked up the migrants at the Pikpa camp on Dec. 21, Stratis Pothas, one of the volunteers who ran the site, said by e-mail. Pothas and others opened the camp in November using donated food and labor after police, unable to house waves of new arrivals, began turning them away.

Greece is a main gateway to the European Union for migrants and refugees, including those fleeing from Syria and Afghanistan. The United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called this month for reform in the way the country handles new arrivals and processes asylum applications. Lesbos, an agricultural island about six miles from the Turkish coast, is a common destination for refugees.

The Lesbos camp closing is good news for the migrants because it meant they were processed more quickly, allowing them to continue on their journey, Athina Stathelli, another volunteer organizer, said by phone.

“They don’t want to stay in Mytilene,” Stathelli said.

The police-issued 30-day deportation order can function as temporary identification, allowing migrants to purchase a ferry ticket to Athens.

Stathelli said the news coverage probably played a role in the police decision to close the camp. Ververis declined to comment on whether the Dec. 21 Bloomberg article about Pikpa prompted its closing.

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