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Hundreds of refugees moved from ‘hell’ of Greek island

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Refugees and migrants wait to board on a ship at the port of Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos, on September 2, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Greek officials and UN workers have begun evacuating hundreds of refugees from the Greek island of Lesbos, where overcrowding and the crushing heat have made conditions unbearable.

A first group of 635 Afghans at the Moria camp were transferred early Monday towards the north of Greece, scrambling into police buses under the supervision of UN refugee agency workers.

"I hope to get out of this hell quickly," 21-year-old Mohamed Akberi, who arrived at the camp five days earlier, told AFP.

The refugees were taken onto a ship, the Caldera Vista, bound for the port of Thessaloniki on mainland Greece.

Another 700 refugees are due to be transferred later Monday, under a decision taken by the Greek government at an emergency meeting Saturday.

The government agreed on the emergency transfer of the refugees, prioritizing unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable people.

But they also agreed to do away with the appeal procedures for asylum seekers to facilitate their swift return to Turkey.

Refugees and migrants board a ship at the port of Mytilene, on the island of Lesbos on September 2, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Greece will also step up border patrols with the help of the EU border control agency Frontex. AFP journalists could see regular Greek police boat patrols off the island.

There has been growing tension between the two countries over the steady flow of refugees arriving on the Greek islands in the Aegean, which lie just off the Turkish coast.

After the EU signed an agreement with Turkey in March 2016, tighter checks made access to the Greek islands from Turkey more difficult.

But in recent months, nearly a hundred people on average have managed to make the crossing every day.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that the island of Lesbos was sheltering nearly 11,000 people at the end of August -- four times its capacity.

In August alone, more than 3,000 people had arrived there, said the agency.

And last Thursday, 13 boats carrying 540 people, including 240 children, arrived at the island -- an unprecedented surge in arrivals that has alarmed the relatively new conservative government.

Migrants at the Moria camp have complained that the hygiene conditions are sub-standard and that there are no tents for the new arrivals.

(Source: AFP)

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