Refugees, Migrants in Greek Detention Centers Face Cold, Dark Winter

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, FILE)

Budget cuts imposed by the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition have rendered Greece’s asylum system unable to keep up with a torrent of applications to stay in the country which will leave thousands stuck in detention centers and camps, many housed in tents during the winter.

A United Nations envoy warned the refugees and migrants, some 15,000 on islands and more than another 52,000 on the mainland, are in a perilous position after more than 20 human rights groups and activists said conditions in some centers and camps are unfit for humans.

This will be the fourth winter that Greece has said it would improve conditions without fulfilling that pledge despite repeated assurances from the Leftists to help refugees and migrants that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said European Union officials were crying “crocodile tears” over.
Philippe Leclerc, the UN refugee agency’s representative in Athens, said EU policy on Greece during the debt crisis was “totally legitimate,” despite Greece’s complaints it hasn’t received enough aid and after a Greek newspaper said Defense Minister Panos Kammenos was shuffling European Union subsidies for the camps and centers to business friends.

LeClerc told The Guardian, which reported on the problem, that Greece “is a state that is affected by the consequences of the financial crisis and public control spending measures … (so) you have an emergency situation on the islands and the mainland, where the state is not fully equipped to respond,” without explaining then why the EU doesn’t.

He spoke to the newspaper after the UNHCR called on Greece to take “urgent steps” to improve conditions for 11,000 people in dirty and unsafe camps on the islands of Samos and Lesbos, but, like other groups urging, complaining, lamenting, demanding and insisting was also ignored.

The Moria camp on Lesbos, housing more than 7,000, was called by the BBC the worst in the world while another on the island of Samos, even closer to Turkey which is letting human traffickers continue to send refugees and migrants, is housing 4,000, six times over capacity.

The paper said that new arrivals are pitching flimsy tents on steep slopes around the camps and have no access to electricity, running water or lavatories. Inside the camps, broken toilets and showers mean that people live next to raw sewage.

Camp dwellers also have to contend with snakes, and rats feeding on uncollected waste. “This is supposed to be the richest and most civilized continent in the world,” said the Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld. “This is happening under our noses.” She offered no solutions.

The EU has allocated 1.61 billion euros ($1.8 billion) since 2015 in aid but at least 554 million euros ($624.56 million) hasn’t spent by Greek authorities. The paper said the EU is wary of how Kammenos, leader of the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are Tsipras’ junior coalition partner is prioritizing spending EU monies.

There was no explanation why the Defense Ministry and not the ministry in charge of refugees handles the EU subsidies for the camps and centers.

The EU’s anti-fraud agency, OLAF, confirmed that it has “opened an investigation into alleged irregularities concerning the provisions of EU funded food for refugees”, but declined to comment further.

With winter coming, NGOs are warning of a crisis in the making. “There are around 400 people in the north still living in tents,” Ruben Cano who heads the Athens branch of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies told the paper.. “The reception system in Greece is overwhelmed partly because the country is being made to shoulder too great a burden.”