Greece moves asylum-seekers from Lesbos to mainland

PIRAEUS (Reuters) - Greek authorities on Thursday moved a few hundred asylum-seekers from the island of Lesbos to the mainland in an effort to ease overcrowding in its camps.

Thousands of asylum-seekers have become stranded on Lesbos and four other islands close to Turkey since the European Union agreed to a deal with Ankara in March 2016 to shut down the route through Greece.

"I came to heaven from hell," said 30-year old Mohammad Firuz, who lived for two months in a state-run camp in Lesbos.

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Stunning scenes from refugee camps on Greece's Lesbos island
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Stunning scenes from refugee camps on Greece's Lesbos island
A child stands among tents at a makeshift camp outside the Moria migrant camp on the island of Lesbos on November 28, 2017. Despite an EU-Turkey deal in 2016 aimed at stemming the migrant flow to Greece, refugees and migrants desperate for a fresh start continue to arrive on the southern European nation's shores -- with a spike in the numbers since this summer. / AFP PHOTO / ANTHI PAZIANOU (Photo credit should read ANTHI PAZIANOU/AFP/Getty Images)
PIRAEUS, GREECE - NOVEMBER 21: A refugee woman carries her stuff in a black trash bag at Port of Piraeus in Piraeus, Greece on November 21, 2017. Refugees are brought to Port of Piraeus due to overpopulation at Moria Refugee Camp to be placed in other camps around this area. (Photo by Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LESBOS, GREECE - NOVEMBER 21: A refugee checks his phone at the Moria Refugee Camp in Lesbos, Greece on November 21, 2017. Overpopulated refugee camp is comprised mostly of children and women. (Photo by Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LESBOS, GREECE - NOVEMBER 21: Refugees chat inside of a tent at the Moria Refugee Camp in Lesbos, Greece on November 21, 2017. Overpopulated refugee camp is comprised mostly of children and women. (Photo by Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LESBOS, GREECE - NOVEMBER 21: Shariff Al-Hassoun (C), a 65 years old woman living with 11 years old her grandson in a tent, looks on at the Moria Refugee Camp in Lesbos, Greece on November 21, 2017. Overpopulated refugee camp is comprised mostly of children and women. (Photo by Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LESBOS, GREECE - NOVEMBER 21: Refugees perform a prayer at the Moria Refugee Camp in Lesbos, Greece on November 21, 2017. Overpopulated refugee camp is comprised mostly of children and women. (Photo by Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LESBOS, GREECE - NOVEMBER 21: A refugee plays with a soccer ball at the Moria Refugee Camp in Lesbos, Greece on November 21, 2017. Overpopulated refugee camp is comprised mostly of children and women. (Photo by Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LESBOS, GREECE - NOVEMBER 21: A refugee digs with a shover in front of a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Refugee Agency tent at the Moria Refugee Camp in Lesbos, Greece on November 21, 2017. Overpopulated refugee camp is comprised mostly of children and women. (Photo by Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LESBOS, GREECE - NOVEMBER 21: Refugees gather around a fire at the Moria Refugee Camp in Lesbos, Greece on November 21, 2017. Overpopulated refugee camp is comprised mostly of children and women. (Photo by Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
PIRAEUS, GREECE - NOVEMBER 21: A refugee woman leans on her baton at Port of Piraeus in Piraeus, Greece on November 21, 2017. Refugees are brought to Port of Piraeus due to overpopulation at Moria Refugee Camp to be placed in other camps around this area. (Photo by Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
PIRAEUS, GREECE - NOVEMBER 21: Refugees are seen at Port of Piraeus in Piraeus, Greece on November 21, 2017. Refugees are brought to Port of Piraeus due to overpopulation at Moria Refugee Camp to be placed in other camps around this area. (Photo by Ayhan Mehmet/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Farhiya, 23, from Somalia, feeds her one-month-old daughter Raya as she sits behind the net on her bed at the Open Solidarity Refugee Camp in Lebos, Greece, June 8, 2017. "I spend most of the day alone," said Farhiya, a 23-year-old Somali who lives in a volunteer-run camp on the nearby island of Lesbos, once the main gateway into the EU. "The other refugees don't speak English and I don't speak Arabic. It's hard to live alone," she said. Seven months ago, pregnant with her one-month-old daughter, Farhiya applied to join her husband in Austria but has not heard back since, she said. Picture taken June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Farhiya, 23, from Somalia holds her one month old daughter Raya, at the Open Solidarity Refugee Camp in Lebos, Greece, June 8, 2017. "I spend most of the day alone," said Farhiya, a 23-year-old Somali who lives in a volunteer-run camp on the nearby island of Lesbos, once the main gateway into the EU. "The other refugees don't speak English and I don't speak Arabic. It's hard to live alone," she said. Seven months ago, pregnant with her one-month-old daughter, Farhiya applied to join her husband in Austria but has not heard back since, she said. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
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Firuz was among 300 people, many of them women and children, aboard a ferry that reached the port of Piraeus early on Thursday morning. The asylum seekers would be taken to camps and apartments in the mainland, authorities said.

Lesbos is now hosting some 8,500 asylum-seekers, nearly three times the capacity of state-run facilities.

Violence often breaks out, mainly over delays in asylum procedures and poor living standards.

Lesbos residents went on strike earlier this month to protest against European policies they say have turned it into a "prison" for migrants and refugees.

(Reporting by Idyli Tsakiri; Editing by Renee Maltezou and William Maclean)

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