Human rights groups who have pushed Greek governments to move refugees and migrants out of island detention centers to mainland camps have become disenchanted after those transferred said conditions were just as bad in both.
“It is two different hells,” Arash Hampay, now a registered refugee and activist told The New Humanitarian about the plight awaiting those moved to the mainland, where New Democracy government plans to put some in hotels in small towns is being rebuffed.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he wants to move 20,000 of the more than 34,700 on islands near Turkey – the numbers swelling sometimes daily – to the mainland and send thousands more back to Turkey under a suspended European Union swap deal.
They had gone to Turkey, fleeing war and strife in their homelands in a bid to get to Greek islands and seek asylum after the EU closed its borders to them, with Mitsotakis complaining Greece is getting little help from the bloc.
Since the beginning of October, when the government announced its plans, around 9,500 people have been transported to the mainland, sparking anti-refugee protests in northern Greece, where some of the asylum seekers have been sent, the site that reports on humanitarian crises reported.
During the same time, another more than 17,500 were sent by human traffickers that Turkey lets operate, making the transfer plan like shoveling sand from hill that keeps coming back down.
Over the same time period, more than 17,500 people have arrived from Turkey, and the overcrowding has only grown worse on the islands, which are currently holding around 38,800 asylum seekers.
“After all these years that we were advocating for people moving from the islands, I’m very skeptical… if the place that (the government is) taking them is really [suitable] for people,” Efi Latsoudi, from the NGO Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) told TNH, saying the “mainland is totally unprepared to receive people.”
RSA said efforts by the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA which had an open door policy, and now by Mitsotakis, who is replacing camps with detention centers on islands to sort out those deemed ineligible for asylum, have been plagued by problems.
Conditions in island camps are so bad that the BBC called the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos “the worst in the world” while all are so overcrowded that violence frequently flares between ethnic groups and with riot police called in to quell violence.
With waits up to two years or more for asylum reviews to be processed, which Mitsotakis said would be accelerated, some who land on the mainland resort to trying to live on the streets or in abandoned buildings to avoid detention centers.
“A lot of people are just walking 24 hours in the street,” Hampay also said. “They just search in the street where they can find clothes; where they can find free food.”