Is Greece keeping its promise to transfer people off the islands?

At the beginning of December, Greece said it would move more than 5,000 asylum-seekers from the islands before the start of a heavy winter.

Now, winter is here. If you are on the islands, you probably know that the authorities have indeed been moving people more quickly than before December — but how fast?

We checked the Greek Ministry of Migration Policy’s data and found that authorities managed to move more than 4,200 people to the mainland during the last month of 2017.

Since the beginning of 2018, 1,294 people have been transferred, the official data shows.


Greek authorities said they will continue these urgent transfers from the islands to camps in mainland Greece.

However, as numerous NGOs have reported, camps on the mainland do not have adequate resources to cover the needs of people who need special care and treatment, such as pregnant women and sick or wounded people.

Meanwhile, on the islands, about 1,000 people are forced to sleep in summer tents, and large numbers of families, children and sick people live in very bad conditions, without access to basic facilities.

Overcrowding is still a big problem.

Who gets transferred to the mainland

If you are on a Greek island, you can’t ask to be transferred to the mainland — instead, you must wait to be selected. The most vulnerable people get priority. If you are selected for transfer, you will get assigned to a specific camp on the mainland. If you don't move to the specific camp that you are assigned, you will lose access to accommodation.

New arrivals keep the islands overcrowded

Hotspots and camps on the islands remain overpopulated, since arrivals continue. 963 people have arrived on the islands since the beginning of January.

  • 455 people arrived on Lesvos, where the refugee population exceeds 7,240 people.
  • 119 people arrived on the island of Chios, where the refugee population exceeds 1,870 people.
  • 229 people arrived at the hotspot of Samos, where the refugee population exceeds 2,740 people.
  • 744 people are currently on Leros, while 845 are on Kos, and 106 are in Rhodes and Tilos and Karpathos combined.

The refugee population on the Greek islands now exceeds 13,550 people.


Accommodation for people under 18

New this year is a special transfer program for people under 18 who are alone in Greece.

Reception and Identification Centers (RICs) on the islands are working with the International Organization of Migration (IOM) to transfer some unaccompanied children to certain hotels in Athens and Thessaloniki.

They aim to transfer 600 children by April, when this temporary accommodation program ends. They are aiming to transfer 240 before the end of January.

The First Reception and Identification Authority said the RICs are prioritizing the most vulnerable unaccompanied children who have stayed on the islands the longest.


If you are under 18, you can’t ask to be transferred, the Authority said — instead, you have to wait to be selected for the program. If you are selected, you will stay in a hotel with other refugees who speak the same language as you.

For as long as they stay in the hotels, children will have access to legal advice, health services and psychosocial support from IOM. Hotels are under 24/7 security.

The situation for unaccompanied children in Greece remains extremely difficult.

It’s not expected to get better, as plans to create more places in shelters in 2018 still will not cover the crushing need.

It is estimated that 3,350 children are alone in Greece, and 2,290 of them are on a waiting list for shelter.

Photos: Daphne Tolis/Refugee.Info