Tuesday

23rd Jul 2019

Forgotten migrants at risk in Greece, says Amnesty

  • Conditions at Idomeni, where 11-13,000 are stranded, at the beginning of March (Photo: Nonviolent Peaceforce)

While the focus is now on making the EU-Turkey migrant-swap deal work, the 46,000 people stranded in Greece must not be forgotten, Amnesty International has warned.

The NGO said in a report on Monday (18 April) that Greece lacked decent reception facilities and conditions were inadequate in many of the 31 temporary accommodation sites set up to host the refugees.

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The temporary sites, set up with EU assistance, have a reported maximum capacity of 33,640 but are hosting many more people. They have no heating, few showers or other sanitary facilities.

Thousands are staying at makeshift camps in Idomeni at the border with Macedonia, and at the Piraeus port in Athens.

Basic humanitarian services are insufficient to cope with the high number of refugees, with volunteers and NGOs trying to fill in the gaps, said Amnesty.

At Idomeni, between 11,000 and 13,000 people are estimated to be stranded in what Amnesty described as “appalling” conditions, with people sleeping on the cold ground and no access to bathrooms.

Reporting from the Elliniko temporary accommodation site, set up at an unused airport in Athens, Amnesty said all 1,400 refugees and migrants were staying on the first floor of the departure hall with no privacy, using blankets to sleep on the floor. There were 10 showers.

At Piraeus, where between 3,000 and 5,000 people have been staying, Amnesty reported only four to six showers with hot water.

Amnesty said women and children made up the majority of those trapped after Macedonia shut its border on 7 March.

The NGO said children were sometimes detained by police for up to 15 days and, according to interviews, women often felt unsafe and at risk of exploitation by men.

Distrust in relocation

Migrants and refugees have little faith in the EU’s relocation system, which is aimed at helping Greece by sharing the burden of refugees among EU countries.

Amnesty reported that refugees and migrants had little access to information about relocation, even if they had already registered with the Greek police.

“The majority of refugees and migrants Amnesty International interviewed on Lesbos and on mainland Greece said that they received no information on asylum during their time on the islands, while only some of those interviewed from the nationalities eligible for the relocation scheme had received information about it on the islands,” the report said.

Even if they know about it, many distrust the authorities after their treatment in Greece and assume it is a scam. Others choose not to participate because they want to join relatives in a particular country.

The waiting period of up to three months for relocation also discourages eligible participants, Amnesty argued.

As a result, some 95 asylum seekers for whom a country had been identified could no longer be found, and 78 withdrew from the scheme after being told which country they would be sent to, said Amnesty, citing Greek Asylum Service data.

According to Amnesty, EASO, the EU’s asylum agency, had however registered a growing interest in the scheme since the closure of the borders and was registering 200 people a day.

EU member states are also not rushing to take in the tens of thousands stranded in Greece.

According to an EU commission report published last week, of the 66,400 asylum seekers pledged to be relocated from Greece in September 2015, only 615 had been transferred to other EU states.

“EU states have only exacerbated this crisis by failing to act decisively to help relocate tens of thousands of asylum seekers, the majority of whom are women and children, trapped in Greece," warned John Dalhuisen, Amnesty's director for Europe and Central Asia.

"If EU leaders do not act urgently to live up to their relocation promises and improve conditions for stranded refugees and migrants, they will face a humanitarian calamity of their own making,”

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