ATHENS – Human Rights Watch stepped up its criticism of the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition’s handling of a refugee crisis, again condemning conditions in centers and camps on Greek islands as intolerable and inhuman.
In its annual review for 2018, the group said the failure of Greek authorities to properly identify vulnerable asylum seekers for transfer to the mainland has “impeded their access to proper care and services.”
The watchdog group also said that suspended European Union swap deal with Turkey, which lets human traffickers operate to send refugees and migrants to the islands while taking back almost none isn’t working.
Instead, said HRW, it has led to to thousands being “trapped in Greece in overcrowded and abysmal conditions, while denying most access to adequate asylum procedures or refugee protection.”
“The policies, conditions, uncertainty and the slow pace of decision-making contributed to deteriorating mental health for some asylum seekers and other migrants on the islands, while creating tensions that sometimes erupted into violence,” it said.
More than 50,000 refugees and migrants are stranded in Greece, including some 15,000 on Aegean islands, primarily Lesbos, Chios and Samos where officials are screaming for help from the government but gotten little as Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas has refused to move them to the mainland, saying it would break the EU-Turkey deal that’s not working.
Five of the island mayors want a meeting with the German Ambassador in Athens after German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said they were at fault for the conditions in the camps and centers after a secret video filmed by the German Deutsche Welle news site showed people live in feces and garbage, with toilets not working, and in tents without enough blankets.
De Maiziere accused the island mayors of not making use of the EU aid and for failing to convince the government to transfer the refugees and migrants to the mainland even though they took a protest to the migration ministry but were ignored.
In December, the European Commission said it has given Greece enough money to help operate refugee and migrant detention centers and camps, including on islands and said the government – not island officials – was to blame conditions human rights groups said weren’t fit.
“The Commission has made the funding available to ensure appropriate accommodation for all. However, the Commission cannot order the creation or expansion of reception capacity, against the opposition of the competent authorities,” Maarten Verwey, the EU coordinator for the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement on migration, told the Brussels-based newspaper New Europe.
Verwey said the government, which includes the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) and local authorities on the islands haven’t done a good job to make conditions better although Greece has complained the EU has done too little.
New Europe reported that Greek authorities recorded 13,663 migrants and refugees on the islands and that the EU secured funding for larger numbers, up to 15,000 migrants, “… 2,000 of which should be able to use the beds provided by apartments and hotels under the UNHCR rental scheme.” There was no report where the money went.