Report. The EU Human Rights Commissioner visited refugee settlements on the Greek islands. The people there are 'on the edge of catastrophe,' she said.

Human Rights chief: Greek refugee crisis is a ‘struggle for survival’

An “explosive situation … on the edge of catastrophe.” This was the dire assessment of Dunja Mijatovic, the European Union’s Commissioner for Human Rights, on the situation of migrants in the Greek islands.

After a trip in which she visited the camps in Lesbos, Samos and Corinth, she said the situation of migrants and asylum seekers on the Aegean islands has deteriorated dramatically during the last year. “Urgent measures are needed to address the desperate conditions in which thousands of human beings are living,” Mijatovic said.

According to the latest report from the NGO Oxfam, there have been over 45,000 arrivals in Greece this year. More than 18,000 people, mostly Syrian and Afghan families, arrived in the Greek islands during August and September alone, an increase of 54% over the previous year.

Over the same time period, Lesbos saw the arrival of 8,500 migrants. Oxfam denounced the fact that over 13,000 refugees are currently packed in the Moria camp, which has a maximum capacity of 3,000. Out of the 13,000, 42% are children between 7 and 12, and there are almost 1,000 unaccompanied minors, who came here alone and are now forced to survive in “inhuman conditions,” with one shower for every 230 people and one toilet for every 100 people, in the area adjacent to the camp, the so-called “Jungle.”

The NGO described this situation as “on the verge of collapse,” appealing for measures to mitigate “the effects created by the disastrous accord between the EU and Turkey in countries of first arrival like Greece through an effective redistribution mechanism for asylum seekers among member states and not only on a voluntary basis,” Riccardo Sansone, head of Oxfam Italy’s humanitarian office, told ANSA. “We must also take into consideration that over 45,000 migrants arrived in Greece in 2019, more than the number in Italy, Spain and Malta.”

At the meeting of the European Council held on Oct. 17 in Brussels, the newly installed Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, spoke of the need for a “plan B” in order to be able to respond to a possible new refugee crisis without being held hostage by Turkey. To alleviate the overcrowding, the Greek government has spoken of a “contingency plan” to transfer about 20,000 migrants from the islands to the mainland by the end of the year. About 10,000 people would be relocated to hotels, and the others to other camps or to flats across Greece. 

In parallel, the Greek government intends to adopt a strict deportation policy: around 10,000 people found to be without the right to apply for asylum will be deported back to Turkey by the end of 2020. According to this plan, the government also intends to reinforce border checks and bolster naval patrols in the Aegean Sea.

During his speech at the Fourth EU-Arab World Summit, Mitsotakis spoke of the “asymmetrical” flow of refugees and migrants to Greece in recent months, and stressed that “we need better coordination between the Europeans and the Arabs in order to manage the causes of migration.” According to the Greek prime minister, the countries of origin and transit must do more, and increased “cooperation” is needed in the fight against criminal networks of human traffickers.

The Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, sounded the alarm about the “abysmal conditions”: “There is a desperate lack of medical care and sanitation in the vastly overcrowded camps I have visited. People queue for hours to get food and to go to bathrooms, when these are available. On Samos, families are chipping away at rocks to make some space on steep hillsides to set up their makeshift shelters, often made from trees they cut themselves. This no longer has anything to do with the reception of asylum seekers. This has become a struggle for survival.”

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