Aid Groups Warn Greek Refugee Camps Crisis Worsening

FILE - In this Friday, May 4, 2018 file photo migrants and refugees wait outside the European Asylum Support Service offices inside the camp of Moria on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File)

ATHENS – Moving the government to start transfers to mainland camps, human rights and activist groups working at refugee and migrant detention centers and camps on Greek islands said conditions there are so miserable it’s creating a deep safety and mental health crisis too.

With more than 15,000 on islands near Turkey, which allows human traffickers to keep operating during a suspended swap deal with the European Union, there are frequent incidents of violence between ethnic groups, including Iraqis, Syrians fleeing the civil war, Afghans and others, with riot police needed to quell disturbances.

That, and the lack of sanitary conditions, particularly at the Moria detention center on Lesbos, a facility the BBC called “the worst in the world,” is driving more despairs, suicide attempts and psychological trauma, the New York Times said in a report after 20 aid groups warned it’s just getting worse.

The residents of the camps and centers, including nearly another 50,000 more on the mainland, have been waiting up to two years and more for asylum applications to be processed with virtually all of them wanting to stay in Greece and not be shipped back to Turkey, where they first went, as the EU closed its borders and other countries reneged on promises to take some of the overload dumped on Greece during a more than eight-year-long economic and austerity crisis.

At Moria, “more than 8500 people are crammed into a site which only has the capacity to host 3100”, the International Rescue Committee, one of the aid groups operating there, stated in a report.

There is only one shower for every 84 people and one toilet for every 72 people, the report said, and “the sewage system is so overwhelmed that raw sewage has been known to reach the mattresses where children sleep.”

Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras earlier said he was “proud” of conditions in the centers and camps which he hasn’t visited.

Activist complaints about Moria are growing, with reports of assaults and even pre-adolescent children trying suicide after being locked up for so long.

Doctors Without Borders issued a statement describing “severe deterioration of health and mental health” and “frequent violence in all its forms” in the camp, where there are many people who have fled violence in their homelands only to find in the camps.

That came after 19 aid groups signed a joint letter calling on the Greek government to correct “the shameful conditions” at Moria that Tsipras had praised.

The International Rescue Committee said that its overwhelmed mental health clinic at the camp had been able to treat only 126 people this year – and that 30 percent had attempted suicide and a total of 60 per cent of them had considered it.

“The only reason I am glad I didn’t succeed is because of my children,” the report quoted Ahmad, a 35-year-old Iraqi father of four, as saying.

While the swap deal has significantly reduced the numbers coming to Greece, they kept coming throughout the summer, further burdening the asylum process.

Earlier in September, regional officials responsible for the southern Aegean Islands threatened to close Moria unless Greece’s central government improved conditions but they have been ignored.

After talks between Tsipras and the European Commission’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, from the major rival New Democracy, 100 migrants, a trickle, were moved from Lesbos to facilities in northern Greece and then another 444 more with plans to take out another 100.

Greek Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas told Greek radio on Tuesday, adding that people would also be moved out of crowded centers on the islands of Samos and Chios. “The goal is to relocate 6000 to 7000 people to mainland Greece by November,” he said after the government had repeatedly said it couldn’t do so because it would violate the EU swap deal terms.