Greek minister says migrant arrival numbers sharply down

Jan 16, 2023, 5:40 PM | Updated: Jan 17, 2023, 9:19 am

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s migration minister says the number of migrants arriving in Greece has dropped dramatically over the past two years, while the number of asylum-seekers living in the country has also fallen.

Speaking Tuesday at an event marking the third anniversary of the Migration and Asylum Ministry’s foundation, minister Notis Mitarachi credited the center-right government’s policies on migration for the drop, including increased border security, faster asylum procedures and a tightening of migration laws.

Greece saw the lowest number of arrivals in a decade in 2021, Mitarachi said, putting the figure at under 9,000 people. In 2015 at the height of the migration crisis, hundreds of thousands reached Greece, the vast majority making their way to Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast and then heading north through the Balkans to wealthier European countries.

“After the explosion in the period 2015-2019, in 2021 we had the lowest flows of the decade, 8,745, and steadily low in 2022 too” Mitarachi said. “The result is that instead of 92,000 asylum seekers living in 121 facilities, we have today 14,000 in 33 facilities.”

The U.N.’s refugee agency had slightly different figures, listing a total of 9,157 arrivals in Greece in 2021 – 4,331 by sea and 4,826 by land. For 2022, the UNCHR office’s figures show a total of 18,778 new arrivals in Greece: 12,756 by sea and 6,022 by land.

In 2015, Mitarachi said, arrivals in Greece accounted for 75% of the total number of irregular arrivals in the European Union, while in 2022 that figure stood at just 5%. He added that Greece was also amending legislation to attract workers through legal migration for employment.

“The migration issue doesn’t end. And it is at the same time a challenge and a need. Our country is implementing a strict but fair migration policy,” he said. “With an emphasis on migration with rules, criteria, agreements, in accordance with our needs. But we stand firmly against smuggling rings and illegal migration.”

Greece has been widely accused by migrants and rights groups of carrying out summary deportations of people as soon as they reach Greek soil without allowing them to apply for asylum — an illegal practice known as pushbacks. Despite considerable indications of the practice both on islands and at Greece’s land border with Turkey, Greek officials strenuously deny it occurs.

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Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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Greek minister says migrant arrival numbers sharply down