With activists continuing to criticize conditions at detention centers housing more than 15,00 refugees and migrants on Greek islands – with another 50,000 on the mainland – Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic joined in after a five-day visit.
“The humanity and hospitality that Greece’s people and authorities demonstrated towards migrants in recent years is truly commendable. In spite of these efforts, however, the situation remains worrying and much more needs to be done to protect the human rights of those who have had to flee their country”, said Mijatovic, who is from Bosnia and Herzegovina and has a background in media law.
She noted the sharp drop of arrival in Greece since a European Union swap deal with Turkey more than two years ago, suspended with Greece being overwhelmed with asylum seekers after the EU closed its borders to them.
Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, who had blasted the EU for not doing enough to help with other countries reneging on promises to help take some of the overload nevertheless made a deal with Chancellor Angela Merkel to have Germany return some who had fled to her country from Greece.
“It is high time that all member states of the Council of Europe united around its foundational values and address this issue in a spirit of collective responsibility and solidarity,” she said.
Despite that, the European Commissioner in charge of migrants, Greece’s Dimitris Avramopoulos, has done little to help and said he can’t take other countries to court to make them live up to their pledges because it’s a political hot potato.
Island officials and residents, especially on Lesbos, Chios and Samos, have pleaded with Tsipras for more help but he’s essentially left them on their own, with sporadic violence in the centers and camps and as the country’s migration officials keep promising to do more but don’t.
The inaction led the leader of the camp on Lesbos to go on a three-day hunger strike but that didn’t work either.
On Lesbos, Mijatovic said, “I am very concerned by the substandard living conditions prevailing in the Reception and Identification Center of Moria, which is running at well over three times its capacity and has already expanded informally into the surrounding area, putting the human rights of its residents at risk. The combination of overcrowding, insecurity, poor hygienic conditions, the approaching high summer temperatures, and residents’ uncertainty regarding their future may lead to very serious problems if not addressed immediately.”
She said the government should transfer more migrants and refugees to mainland camps although that technically would violate terms of the EU-Turkey swap deal that has seen human traffickers continue to send more to Greek islands after they’d gone to Turkey to flee war and strife and poor economic conditions in the Mideast and North Africa.
She also said asylum application processing should be accelerated to protect those she said were victims of trafficking and of sexual and gender-based violence, persons with disabilities, and persons with mental health conditions.