A statement yesterday from the interior ministry on migration read more like an angry rant from a very frustrated person than a measured government announcement on a sensitive issue.
That is not to say the document, issued as a response to criticism over the Pournara facility, did not contain some valid points but the ministry losing its cool is probably not going to help the situation.
A group of MPs had visited Pournara on Monday and were shocked by the living conditions because it’s currently housing 2,500 people when its capacity is only 800.
Inevitably the visit translated into a criticism of the government. The facility was only designed to host people for days, or at most a week, but most have been there for months if not longer, they pointed out.
The crux of the migration issue is the fact that 85 per cent of arrivals come through the north. The second is processing of applications. Inroads were made last year when migration numbers were smaller due to the pandemic, but any gains were lost this year with even more replacing those processed.
Twelve thousand people have come so far this year, most through the north, and if a few thousand are in Pournara, it means something is definitely being done or things would be a lot worse. The ministry said that this year they delivered 14,762 asylum decisions as opposed to 6,468 in 2020 and 5,164 in 2019, which is progress.
Pournara is the unfortunate result of these two glaring problems that the government is having difficulty tackling, the buffer zone being the root of the whole fiasco. If they could get a handle on this it would ease both the asylum process and the issues at Pournara. There has been no update from the defence ministry so far on the recent multi-million deal with an Israeli firm on surveillance of the buffer zone and whether it has helped.
The visitors to Pournara on Monday were almost entirely focused on the tragic situation there, but did not suggest how the government could quickly create two more Pournaras to accommodate the current numbers, or where they thought the government could possibly house the additional 1,700 people outside of the facility to return it to capacity.
The ministry was correct to point out that the solution is not to build reception centres all over the place to accommodate everyone who comes here. But there is also the possibility someone out there just might believe that the more miserable the arrivals are made to feel, the more reluctant they may be to stick around, especially in cases that are not genuine refugees.
One thing they absolutely should do immediately is remove the 287 unaccompanied minors from Pournara and find them somewhere else to live if as the MPs said, there is drug use and prostitution going on at the facility. Surely that would be feasible at least.