The European Union’s Director-General for Migration and Home Affairs said repeated visits to the refugee camp on the Greek island of Samos revealed despicable conditions and overcrowding even worse than the notorious facility on Lesbos that the BBC called “the worst in the world.”
Vivi Michou said she’s gone since March and seen little progress although the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA has had three years to try to deal with the crisis that has seen more than 15,000 refugees and migrants stuck on islands, and another 50,000 in mainland camps.
They were abandoned by the EU and left to Greece to deal with during an ongoing economic and austerity crisis as other countries closed their borders to them and reneged on promises to help take an overload.
Michou’s boss, EU migration chief Dimitris Avramopoulos, from the major rival New Democracy Conservatives, has done little to aid and said he can’t take other countries to court because the issue is too politically sensitive.
Most of those stuck in the camps are seeking asylum so they won’t be returned to Turkey where they had first gone after fleeing war and strife in the Middle East and from North Africa and other countries in hopes of reaching more prosperous European countries before being shut out.
Greece could face sanctions – but not for another 10 months – if conditions in the camps aren’t improved, not quick enough to head off what activists said could be a disastrous winter with people stuck in flimsy summer tents and facilities without enough toilets, doctors or basic needs.
Michou said the situation at the Moria camp, with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras having said he was “proud” of conditions in which the refugees and migrants were living, has improved only marginally, the paper reported, with 3,000 of the 10,300 living in the overcrowded camp in September relocated in central Greece. But there are another 4,000 outside facing prospects of a chilling winter with little help.
A Greek newspaper said Defense Minister Panos Kammenos from SYRIZA’s junior partner, the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL), who is charge of 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion) in EU subsidies for the camps was handing out contracts to business friends with uncertain reports on where all the money is going if not to fix the facilities.
The center on Samos was built to hold 600 people but now has 4,118, seven times over capacity but Greece has been given until September, 2019 to make improvements or relocate some of those there.
Michou met with Greek officials last week to find out why so little has been done but didn’t offer any criticism of the government that has won favor from international creditors after reneging on anti-austerity promises to hit workers, pensioners and the poor with more brutal conditions to make sure banks are repaid first.
While there have been contingents from Doctors Without Borders volunteering, Michou said there aren’t enough physicians to deal with the numbers with some stuck in the camps two years or more as Greece tries to deal with processing asylum applications.
“We expect to have another 150 doctors by mid-December,” said Michou, adding that so far there have been no infectious disease outbreaks. Greek officials have broken repeated promises and missed deadlines to make improvements with no sanctions from the EU.
A mobile unit to speed the processing of asylum requests will be sent to Samos with the support of Frontex, the Schengen area border agency, and the European Asylum Support Office, said Kathimerini but Michou said it’s up to Greek officials to deal with the problem.
“We provide Greece with financial, operational, technical and advisory support but we are not substituting for the Greek authorities,” she said. Greece still hasn’t used 500 million euros ($568.12 million) in EU aid while repeatedly complaining of not getting enough assistance.
Despite the appalling conditions she identified, Michou said the number of arrivals had slowed enough under a suspended EU swap deal with Turkey to make the problem manageable without explaining why it isn’t other than to say there are snafus between Greek agencies.
“We currently do not have enough arrivals to speak of a crisis,” said Michou.
“The EU is much better prepared to face a future migration crisis than it was in 2015,” she said. “There is a solutions package on the table that is up to the member states to adopt,” although they haven’t and a number of countries said they never will.