Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

Refugees on Greek islands face daunting winter

  • Refugees on the island of Lesbos. EU commissioner Avramopoulos said a repeat of last winter on the Greek islands must be avoided (Photo: Save the Children)

The European Commission on Wednesday (15 November) defended its migration policy in Greece in the lead up to the winter months, as concerns mount people will be left exposed once again to the elements.

Scenes of asylum seekers in thin tents waking up to deep snow on the Greek islands last year sparked outcry. At least three people died, reportedly from carbon monoxide poisoning, in their effort to keep warm.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Despite the concerns, EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told MEPs in Strasbourg that outstanding winter weather issues still remain on the Greek islands.

"All housing units should be connected to electricity and further heating appliances should be provided for those housing units that are not equipped," he said.

He also demanded that the Greek authorities set up more pre-fabricated units on the islands.

Greece has received some €1.3 billion from the European Union to address migration and refugee issues. It is by far the biggest recipient of EU home affairs funding.

Greek responsibility

Asked why Greece still has not connected the housing units to electricity despite the money, Avramopoulos told this website that the "responsibility is in the hands definitely of the Greek authorities but also of the NGOs who have to cooperate with the Greek authorities on the ground."

Last week, the mayor of Lesbos, Spyros Galinos, accused Athens of trying to turn the island and other border areas into "concentration camps where all human dignity is denied."

On Tuesday, Galinos announced a general strike next week in protest at the conditions, telling Greek media Kathimerini that the island currently hosts over 8,000 migrants.

That Greece struggles to provide appropriate housing and reception on the islands points to political and administrative mismanagement to deter others from arriving.

But any such message has failed to impress refugees and migrants who continue to leave Turkey in increasingly larger numbers to reach the Aegean islands. Some 4,600 arrived in September alone, up from 3,665 in August.

Altogether, the islands are home to around 13,600 migrants as Athens struggles to send people back to Turkey. EU states have also fallen short in relocating others from the mainland, creating administrative bottlenecks.

The overcrowding is severe.

As of end of October, Lesbos held over 5,500 people but can only house half that number. Many are crammed into tents and containers with little access to proper shelter, health care, food or even water.

Chios had just under 2,000 but can only accommodate 894, Samos had 2,400 but is able to care for 700. Other islands reported smaller figures.

Conditions on the islands remain poor amid continuing reports of suicides, attempted suicides, violence, and psychological traumas.

Children, minors, and women are particularly vulnerable to abuse.

Many have already witnessed war in Syria and elsewhere, struggled in Turkey, and now face further abuse in a European Union member state flush with EU money tailored to address those very same issues.

Last month, dozens of human rights groups and NGOs sent a letter to Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras to condemn the island conditions.

They noted some have remained stuck on the islands for 19 months.

"Forcing asylum seekers to remain in conditions that violate their rights and are harmful to their well-being, health and dignity cannot be justified," they said.

Greek immigration minister Ioannis Mouzalas told reporters earlier this month they may send cruise ships to help ease the overcrowding on the islands.

Asylum conditions on Greek islands 'untenable'

Germany is preparing to send people back to Greece with the EU's blessing, even though the EU commission has described snow-covered migrant camps on Greek islands as "untenable".

UN criticises EU policy in Libya as 'inhuman'

The EU's policy of helping the Libyan coast guard to return people plucked from the sea is "inhuman", says the UN's human rights chief, given that most end up in dire conditions.

Interview

EU asylum chief: The 'future' arrived in 2015

Jose Carreira, the European Asylum Support Office executive director, lays out his vision for an agency on the cusp of becoming much bigger and more powerful.

Feature

Lebanon crisis overshadows EU aid for Syrian refugees

Lebanon hosts over one million Syrian refugees, and has received some €1bn in EU funds. Caught in a geo-political tug of war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Lebanon's domestic politics have cast a longer shadow over its Syrian 'guests'.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel: I will fight to the 'last hour' for orderly Brexit
  2. EU affairs ministers demand Brexit clarity from London
  3. Nordic MEP candidates in first ever joint EU election debate
  4. UK announces EEA trade deal ahead of EU summit
  5. Four European cities among world's most expensive
  6. Violent 'yellow vest' protesters ban in Paris
  7. Russia celebrates fifth anniversary of Crimea annexation
  8. Blow for May as third vote on Brexit deal ruled out

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Latest News

  1. May to seek Brexit extension amid UK 'constitutional crisis'
  2. Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides
  3. My plan for defending rule of law in EU
  4. Anti-corruption lawyer wins first round of Slovak elections
  5. The changing of the guards in the EU in 2019
  6. It is high time to exclude Fidesz from the EPP
  7. Brexit delay and Orban decision This WEEK
  8. EU must get real on Russia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  3. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  6. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us