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Greece sees fewer migrant arrivals from Turkey, partly due to pandemic, minister says

File photo: People board an Aegean Airlines aircraft that will transfer refugees and migrants to Germany

Greece has seen fewer migrants and refugees arriving from Turkey, numbering in the hundreds in the last four months, mainly due to increased border checks and partly due to the coronavirus pandemic, a government minister said on Tuesday.

But Turkey is “a difficult and unpredictable neighbour that controls a pool of four million migrants and refugees”, Alternate Migration Minister George Koumoutsakos told Reuters.

“No one can rule out that it will attempt to use (them) at another instance.”

Koumoutsakos was speaking before visiting migrant camps on the island of Lesbos with the premier of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

In March, tensions between NATO allies Greece and Turkey, which disagree on a range of issues, rose a notch when thousands of refugees hosted by Turkey tried to storm the border into Greece and the European Union.

“The reduced flow won’t allow us to rest. On the contrary, it imposes the (need) for continued vigilance,” Koumoutsakos said.

More than a million people fleeing conflict reached Greek shores from Turkey in 2015-16.

From April to July, Greece recorded 850 arrivals, down from 12,363 in the same period last year. Tens of thousands are still trapped in overcrowded migrant camps on its islands.

Turkey, home to 3.6 million Syrians, the world’s largest refugee population, had said it would open the frontier because it was alarmed by the prospect of another wave of refugees fleeing war in northwest Syria.

The conservative Greek government has started transferring thousands of migrants to more secure facilities on the mainland, which activists have compared to prisons.

“There will be strict controls but they are not prisons,” Koumoutsakos said. “Greece does not build prisons. It’s a democratic European state which protects its borders as well as human rights.”

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