Greece on Monday began moving asylum seekers to the first of several new EU-funded “closed” camps on its islands, hours after a fire torched a part of the current facility.
Rights groups oppose the new camps, saying that the strict access measures in them are too restrictive.
“Today is a historic day…a day of joy for us,” Manos Logothetis, general secretary for asylum at the Greek migration ministry, told state TV ERT at the island of Samos.
Logothetis told AFP that out of some 400 people at the current Vathy camp at Samos, 270 have said that they want to move to the new Zervou facility.
The first bus with 22 people on board was already heading to Zervou, Logothetis said.
The ministry is prepared to register up to 200 people today and the remainder on Tuesday, he said.
Late on Sunday, a major fire broke out in an abandoned part of the Vathy camp, with the ministry saying no one was hurt.
Logothetis on Monday told ERT it was “habitual” for asylum seekers to sort through their belongings ahead of a camp move, and torch anything they did not intend to bring with them.
“It was not a surprise, we were prepared for this,” he said.
According to the ministry, all the asylum-seekers had been evacuated to an empty space near the entrance of the camp as firefighters tackled the blaze.
The new Samos facility is the first of several such camps on five Greek islands created with EU funds.
A double barbed-wire fence surrounds the 12,000-square-metre camp, which is also installed with surveillance cameras, x-ray scanners and magnetic doors.
It also includes a detention centre for migrants whose asylum claims have been rejected and who will be sent back to Turkey.
Logothetis said the new restricted-access camps offer “safety and humanitarian values”, but rights groups say the measures are too restrictive.
The local community, which had for years demanded the relocation of all the migrants to mainland Greece and Europe, has also opposed the construction of the new Zervou camp.
The Vathy camp on Samos, which is near Turkey, sheltered nearly 7,000 asylum-seekers between 2015 and 2016.
It was only built to take in 680 people, and campaigners had long denounced conditions as deplorable.
On the nearby island of Lesbos, the similarly overcrowded camp of Moria was destroyed in two fires that left 13,000 without shelter for several days.