A child in a reception centre in Greece.
European policies are putting already vulnerable people in more danger by confining them to overcrowded camps on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos, and Chios.
These policies are forcing asylum seekers arriving on the Greek islands to remain in inadequate and unsafe facilities, which have often been referred to as ‘open air prisons’. With limited access to basic services, psychosocial support and medical assistance – and winter setting in – there is an urgent need to move migrants and refugees to the mainland where they can receive the care and protection they desperately need.
Last year’s circumstances must not be repeated.
“This remains a matter of life and death […] There is absolutely no excuse for the conditions on the islands right now – thousands of people crammed into overcrowded and desperately under-resourced facilities. We are in a race against time. Lives will be lost – again – this winter, unless people are allowed to move in an organised and voluntary fashion to the mainland,”
Jana Frey, the International Rescue Committee’s country director in Greece.
As of 20 November 2017, the hotspots are hosting 7,000 more people than they were designed to. Thousands, including very young children, are being forced to live in summer tents – essentially sleeping on the ground – as the weather worsens. Children are being psychologically harmed from living in these conditions, they struggle with increased levels of stress, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, depression and self-harming, as a recent Save the Children report has shown.
EU and Greek officials have cited the EU-Turkey Deal as a justification for the containment policy, but politics cannot be put ahead of people’s lives.
“In an effort to make the EU-Turkey deal work, the Greek islands have been transformed into places of indefinite confinement for asylum seekers who have risked their lives in search of safety and a better life in Europe.”
Nicola Bay, head of mission for Oxfam in Greece
Human rights groups and aid groups have expressed their concern in a letter addressed to Greek Prime Minister Tsipras. Having received no response, they released a statement signed by 20 groups, among them Terre des Hommes, urging the Greek government and the European Union to act now.
This is a humanitarian crisis that European governments have to address urgently, as every day the conditions are deteriorating.
“Nothing can justify trapping people in these terrible conditions on the islands for another winter […] Greece and other European Union member states should act urgently to remove the obstacles to people getting the care and assistance they need on the Greek mainland”
Eva Cosse, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch
This will be the second winter asylum seekers have had to spend in inhumane conditions on the islands since the EU-Turkey Deal came into effect.