Women in Greek Refugee Camps Cite Hellish Conditions

FILE - A Syrian woman with her children disembarks from a ferry, at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Women refugees and migrants who fled war and strife in the Middle East only to wind up in Greek detention centers while hoping for asylum said the life is dangerous and that they face constant abuse and sexual violence, Amnesty International said in a report.

That comes as the European Union’s anti-fraud office OLAF is said to be looking into how 1.6 billion euros ($1.84 billion) in subsidies meant for detention centers and camps, including the Moria Center on the island of Lesbos which the BBC called the “worst in the world.”

The head of the asylum service that is processing applications from most of the more than 64,000 people looking to stay in Greece said the funding system was corrupt and a newspaper said Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whose agency handles money for the camps, had directed contracts to business friends.

I Want to Decide My Future: Uprooted Women in Greece Speak Out, cited perilous journeys made by women and girls and the terrible conditions and dangers they face in camps on Greek islands and on the mainland.

“The abject failure of European governments to open safe and legal routes to refugees fleeing war is putting women and girls at increased risk of harrowing abuses,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“And yet despite the challenges and against all odds, these women are finding the strength to speak out. Those in power must listen to their voices and act on their words. In these times of #MeToo and #TimesUp, we are proud to stand with our uprooted sisters in Greece to say, ‘We see you, we hear you, we believe you, and we will fight with you’.”

Amnesty said it interviewed more than 100 women and girls living in camps and other accommodation in and around Athens and on the Greek islands since March 2017 and said the conditions were miserable.
“When the European governments closed the doors to refugees, we women were more exposed to the abuses of the smugglers,” one Afghan refugee told Amnesty International. “You cannot ask the police or anyone else for help because you are ‘illegal’. Smugglers take advantage of that.”

That was in reference to the European Union shutting its borders to refugees and migrants, largely dumping the problem on Greece during a more than eight-year-long economic and refugee crisis and other countries reneging on promises to help take some of the overload.

The EU has a suspended swap deal with Turkey which has taken back only a relative handful while allowing human traffickers to keep sending more to Greece, to the islands and overland routes on the northern border near the Evros River.

People in the centers and camps are waiting two years and more for applications to be processed and the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition has gone through several migration ministers and asylum chiefs while Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he was “proud” of conditions in camps that human rights groups said weren’t fit for people to live in.

Overcrowding is at a crisis point with almost 15,500 people living in five island camps which were designed for around 6,400 people, the report said, adding that thousands of people, including many with specific needs such as the disabled and babies, sleep in tents around the main camp areas. Lack of sanitation, insufficient clean drinking water, streams of raw sewage and infestations of mice and rats are common in all camps.

“Every day is getting worse… The camp is so cramped,” said one woman in Moria camp in Lesvos, which is currently two-and-a-half times over its capacity for 3,100 people.