The EU is to give Greece funding to build five new refuge camps on the Aegean islands.
Ylva Johansson, the EU home affairs commissioner, visited Lesbos and Samos on Monday to announce that the EU would provide €250m of funding (£213m) for five new structures on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros.
A large crowd of demonstrators gathered outside the town hall on the waterfront in Mytilene, the capital of Lesbos, to protest against her visit. Some wrapped themselves in Greek flags and others held signs calling for European solidarity. One sign read: “No to European Guantánamos. Shame on you, Europe.” Another said: “No structures on the island, Europe take responsibility.”
Kostas Moutzouris, the northern Aegean’s regional governor, told the Guardian he had cancelled his meeting with Johansson during her visit. “We don’t want the money for new camps – we want it for what we suffered all these years but not to build new camps,” he said.
At a joint press conference with the Greek immigration minister, Notis Mitarachi, Johansson said it was of “utmost importance” that people were not in the “temporary” camp built in the wake of the Moria fire for another winter. An agreement for €155m for the construction of camps on Lesbos and Chios had just been signed, she said.
She said there should be “quick and fair” asylum processes, and that the EU was calling on Turkey to resume accepting migrants from Greece.
“Even if you are not eligible [to stay in Greece] you are a human being – you have rights and dignity and should be treated accordingly,” she said.
Mitarachi said the new centres on Samos, Kos and Leros would be ready within the three months and would offer “dignified” living conditions, but entry and exit would be controlled, with fencing around the camps.
“For those that believe we are creating a new Moria, it will be shown in practice that you are wrong,” he said.
Rights groups have criticised the temporary camp on Lesbos that has been called “Moria 2:0” for substandard living conditions.
Mitarachi said there were too many “semantics” around the new camp, which would “have a central gate”, he said. He said every asylum seeker would have a card stating the hours they could leave the centre to provide a sense of safety for refugees and the local community.
Humanitarian groups working on the ground with refugees raised concerns. “Ylva Johansson’s visit in Lesbos and Samos to promote new camps and a ‘Europeanised’ migration policy show how EU leaders live in a parallel universe,” said Stephan Oberreit, Médecins Sans Frontières’ head of mission in Greece.
“Thousands of men, women and children continue to suffer every day in Europe’s camps in Samos and Lesbos while nothing seems to indicate that the model of containment that created hells like Moria and Vathy and recurrent emergencies over the past five years has ever been called into question by the EU,” Oberreit said.
“We have said it several times: continuing to clone and repackage the containment model is the best recipe for a catastrophe. It is time to demand dignified alternatives to camps and access to a fair and dignified asylum procedure, otherwise those seeking safety in Europe will continue to suffer.”