Coroner Probes Refugee Death at Greek Island Camp, Oxfam Lashes Out

January 9, 2019

As a  coroner was investigating the death of a 24-year-old man from Cameroon at the notorious Moria refugee and migrant detention center on the island of Lesbos, the international relief group Oxfam became the latest to lambast conditions there and other camps holding more than 70,000 people.

The report, Vulnerable and Abandoned, details how the system to identify and protect the most vulnerable individuals has broken down due to chronic understaffing and flawed processes, said Kathimerini, and came after 20 other human rights groups and activists complained it would get worse with the winter setting in.

A cold snap settled over Greece, bringing snow to many areas, and with reports some refugees and migrants were still living in tents on islands housing more than 15,000 of them with the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition promising for three years to improve conditions at the vastly overcrowded facilities.

A government-appointed doctor at the Moria camp, which the BBC called “the worst i the world,” quit after being told to screen up to 2,000 people a month, leading medical evaluations for the most vulnerable people to be halted for at least a month, Oxfam said.

There’s still been no explanation of how 1.5 billion euros ($1.72 billion) in European Union subsidies designed to make conditions better has been spent with a Greek newspaper reporting that Defense Minister Panos Kammenos has directed contracts to business associates without providing an accounting.

He is the leader of the tiny, pro-austerity, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in the coalition led by Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras who had said he was “proud” of conditions in the detention centers and camps, some of which he hasn’t seen.

With a break in medical screenings, Oxfam said that  “vulnerable people including survivors of torture and sexual violence are being housed in unsafe areas… Pregnant women and mothers with newborns are left sleeping in tents, and unaccompanied children, wrongly registered as adults, have been placed in detention.”

The report includes accounts of mothers being sent away from hospital to live in a tent as early as four days after giving birth by Caesarean section and that victims of sexual violence and other serious issues were put in camps where fights break out daily.

Tension has soared with frustration over the slow pace of screening asylum applications with most wanting to stay in Greece instead of being sent back to Turkey where they first went after fleeing their homelands in hopes of reaching more prosperous EU countries before the borders were shut to them.

“In a few extreme cases, women say they have resorted to wearing diapers at night to avoid having to go to the toilet after dark,” the report said.

“It is irresponsible and reckless to fail to recognize the most vulnerable people and respond to their needs,” Renata Rendon, Oxfam’s Head of Mission in Greece, said in a press release.

“Our partners have met mothers with newborn babies sleeping in tents, and teenagers wrongly registered as adults being locked up. Surely identifying and providing for the needs of such people is the most basic duty of the Greek government and its European partners,” she said.

“Local authorities and humanitarian groups are making efforts to improve conditions in places like Lesvos. Unfortunately, this is made almost impossible by policies supported by the Greek government and EU that keep people trapped on the islands for indefinite periods,” she added.

When he took power, Tsipras said he would make conditions better for refugees and migrants and as he lashed out at other EU and international leaders for shedding “crocodile tears” over their plight.

Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas said the man who  had been staying in a container home at the camp, equipped with heaters and blankets with no report on how he died yet.

Tasos Yfantis, who works with Doctors of the World at Moria, told Kathimerini that some 5,000 detainees have heat, but 1,000 live in tents and makeshift shelters in an olive grove adjacent to the camp. Designed to accommodate 12 people, each container is holding more than 30 due to the cold conditions, Yfantis said..

Some migrant camps on mainland Greece – such as Malakasa, in eastern Attica, and Grevena, in the north – have also had problems due to snowfall in recent days.

Dozens of refugees housed in tents in a camp in northern Greece at the Diavata camp in central Macedonia protested living conditions as temperatures plunged well below freezing and snow blanketed.

Police said about 40 refugees in the overcrowded camp protested outside the facility, burning tires and blocking a road outside the camp. The Diavata camp has a capacity of 700 people but currently houses 1,410.

Of those, 700 live in containers turned into small houses, a further 300 are staying in large communal buildings in the camp and about 400 live in tents.


(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)


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