25th Feb 2024


Depriving migrants of food is policy in an EU member state — Greece

Listen to article

Beginning on May 18, the EU-funded Lesvos "Closed Controlled Access Centre" (CCAC), which houses over 2,000 asylum seekers, stopped providing food and water to adults residing in the camp that have either received international protection status or a final rejection of their asylum application.

This policy resulted in approximately 300 people being denied these basic necessities of life.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Undoubtedly, Greek authorities, through this policy, are instrumentalising food insecurity to deter people from seeking protection on Lesvos, and to force asylum seekers already on the island out.

However, authorities attempt to achieve these goals by trampling on people's fundamental rights and by breaching Greek, European, and international law.

Greece's migration ministry has stated that European and Greek law only consider people currently applying for international protection as eligible for material reception conditions such as food. The ministry's interpretation excludes people who have already been granted international protection or whose applications have been rejected.

Regardless of status, however, under international law, the state still has an obligation to provide food to these people, especially since it is the government's own policies that prevent them from providing for their own subsistence.

The right to food is a recognised fundamental human right codified in international law. Everyone has a right to be free from hunger and the right to access a quantity and quality of food sufficient to satisfy their nutritional and dietary needs. States must provide an environment which enables people to to either produce food or buy it for themselves.

And every state, including Greece, has an obligation to ensure these minimum needs are met and to facilitate access to food, especially when people cannot access it themselves.

The vast majority of those residing in the CCAC who have been granted international protection have no way to sustain themselves outside the camp and are thus unable to pay for food— Greek and EU policy failures are to blame. While beneficiaries of protection, in theory, are eligible for social benefits from the state, in practice, bureaucratic obstacles make access to these supports virtually impossible.

Endemic lags in the issuance of residence permits, along with travel documents and a taxpayer ID, prevent recognised refugees from accessing the labour market and social benefits.

Compounded by inflation and high unemployment, many recognised refugees have no means to feed themselves aside from the provisions offered within the CCAC.

Also excluded from food provisions are asylum seekers who have received final rejections on their applications. Here too, policies of the Greek government deny people legal status for arbitrary and irrational reasons.

For example, included in this bucket are people whose asylum applications were examined, and rejected, solely on admissibility grounds due to Greece's baseless consideration of Turkey as a safe third country for nationals of Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

Many, if not most, of these people's experiences fit within the requirements for refugee status. But, an inadmissibility decision means their requests for international protection are rejected solely based on their transit through Turkey instead of whether they experienced persecution to begin with.

Turkey, however, has not accepted a single readmission since March 2020.

Nevertheless, the Greek government's nonsensical decision has forced nationals from these five countries into a legal limbo: unable to be readmitted to Turkey and unable to access the right to seek asylum in Greece.

The CCAC's announcement means that now, on top of all these hardships, these asylum seekers may also lack access to food, further exacerbating their existing vulnerabilities and their limbo situation.

Since the enforcement of these policies was announced, NGOs have attempted to fill the gap left by Greek authorities. However, NGOs limited resources mean they can only operate as a temporary solution; they are unable to provide a quantity of food that meets human rights obligations as most can only give a maximum of one meal per day.

Moreover, CCAC authorities have the discretion to stop NGOs from distributing food within the camp at any time.

No one, irrespective of their legal status, should be deprived of food. Food insecurity as a policy is unacceptable and should never be legitimised, especially as a policy of a European state.

Seeking asylum is already a deadly endeavour, as most recently evinced by the drowning of an expected 500 people off the southern coast of Greece.

In this dire context, the least authorities could do is ensure people who survive these traumatising journeys have access to food, regardless of their status. Instead, hundreds on Lesvos now find themselves denied this necessary sustenance.

As of late June, Greece has a new government and a new minister of migration — hopefully this administration will choose to change course and respect, rather than undermine, the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Indeed, we expect better from European Union and Greek governance than to tolerate forced hunger on their soil.

Author bio

Giovanna Garcia, is advocacy officer at Fenix Humanitarian Legal Aid in Lesvos and Athens, an NGO offering asylum seekers and migrants legal representation, case management, advocacy, and community engagement.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Greece closes humane camp for refugees, sends them to Moria

A model camp for asylum seekers on the Greek island of Lesbos is being shut down by the Greek authorities as residents are being taken to 'Moria 2.0', a lead-contaminated sprawling ghetto perched on the edge of the island.

Crotone shipwreck triggers police vs coastguard blame game

As the body count continues to rise from the Crotone shipwreck off the Calabria coast, authorities in Italy are looking for who to blame. At least 68 people are now confirmed dead, including children, after a 20-metre boat sank.

Split on Africa Big-Agri sees boycott at UN food summit

At its heart, the two sides have different ideas about how this transformation should take place: by increasing production through further industrialisation — or by making the system more equitable and sustainable.

Ukraine refugees want to return home — but how?

Fewer than one-in-ten Ukrainian refugees intend to settle permanently outside Ukraine, according to new research by the associate director of research and the director of gender and economic inclusion at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.

Latest News

  1. EU rewards Tusk's Poland on rule of law with €137bn
  2. UK-EU relations defrosting ahead of near-certain Labour win
  3. EU paid Russia €420-per-capita for fossil fuels since war began
  4. After two years of war, time to hit Putin's LNG exports
  5. Creating the conditions for just peace in Ukraine
  6. Energy and minerals disputes overshadow new EU-ACP pact
  7. Germany speeds up Georgia and Morocco asylum returns
  8. How Amazon lobbyists could be banned from EU Parliament

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us