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Aid Groups Say Greece Letting Some Refugees in Camps Go Hungry

ATHENS – After denying reports that refugees and migrants were being pushed back into the sea and across land borders with Turkey, Greece’s New Democracy government now has been accused by humanitarian groups and activists of not providing enough food in detention centers and camps.

They said it’s a deliberate policy by the government which has taken a harder line on refugees and migrants and admitted wanting to make it tougher for them to get into the country, or even want to come.

“It is unthinkable that people are going hungry in Greece,” Martha Roussou of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) told Helena Smith of the British newspaper The Guardian.

“Through no fault of their own they have fallen through the cracks and all because of a problem created by gaps in legislation and policy,” Roussou said of the those being detained while awaiting processing of asylum applications.

Aid groups said refugees have been left trying to feed themselves in some cases during the winter months that has seen many still housed in tents on the island of Lesbos.

General Secretary of Reception for Asylum Seekers Manos Logothetis denied the reports of food being withheld as “nonsense,” and said it was fabricated by activists – just as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis described pushbacks.

“If there are 10 refugees in this country who have been denied food I will quit my job,” he told the paper.

“If a hunger crisis really existed there’d be riots and protests. We are in discussion with the EU commissioner every week and have reassured her that there is no issue with food, that everyone who is supposed to receive it, including the vulnerable and incapacitated, is getting support.”

In a written statement the ministry said, however that under Greek and European law only people applying for international protection could be considered “beneficiaries eligible for material conditions of reception, and therefore food.”

The IRC said some 40 percent of camp occupants – about 6,000 refugees – had been denied basic means of subsistence because of the government’s decision to stop feeding those no longer in the asylum procedure.

Some 40 percent of those in the state-run facilities are minors and said to be going hungry. “Teachers in local primary schools have reported children turning up to school without having eaten, without even a snack to see them through the day,” the New York-based group said in a statement.

Although 16,559 refugees were registered in camps on the Greek mainland, new catering contracts had been agreed to provide food for only 10,213 people, said the IRC.

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

In October, 2021, the law was changed and saw some essential services cut for refugees and migrants, including for those who hadn’t made asylum applications, often because of processing delays.

In an open letter addressed to Greek and EU officials, 33 groups demanded that food be given to all camp residents irrespective of their legal status.

European Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, responded that Greek authorities had been repeatedly called on to “ensure that all persons, particularly the vulnerable” receive food and other necessities.

Rights groups said the government passed legislation in 2021 that said recognized refugees will have benefits, including cash assistance and food, cut off after 30 days, leaving them to fend for themselves.

Turkey has also refused to accept return of those denied asylum, violating the terms of an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU and has been allowing human traffickers to keep sending refugees and migrants, mainly to Greece through its islands.

Greece also ruled that Turkey was declared a safe third country for refugees and migrants, which has limited who can apply for asylum, especially the largest groups which are comprised of Afghans, Syrians, Somalis, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.

“It has created a situation where thousands have been left in legal limbo and in utter destitution without access to food and other basic rights in the camps,” Minos Mouzourakis, legal officer at Refugee Support Aegean, a migrant solidarity group in Athens told the paper.

“What is absolutely clear is that the hunger crisis unfolding in Greece is a direct result of the conscious policy choices of the government,” he said.

About 90,000 refugees currently live in Greece although arrivals slowed after the 2016 deal and during the COVID-19 pandemic, but in December some 30 died in three separate capsizings of rickety craft trying to reach Greek islands or take a detour toward Italy.

In 2021, the government took over operation of all 24 camps on the mainland, previously run by the International Migration Organization, and also took charge of an EU-funded cash assistance program formerly run by the United Nations.

That meant handouts for refugees who were eligible for cash disbursements in camps and private housing were frozen for three months but Logothetis said that payments were being “rolled out” again.

But Roussou said that, “So much of this crisis is the result of mismanagement, disorganisation and not thinking policies through.” She added: “We work in Afghanistan where there is hunger and it is so difficult to resolve. Here in Greece it should be so easy.”

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