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Society

Human Rights Watch Says Greece’s Island Refugees Left in the Cold

December 21, 2017

With winter beginning and the country’s migration chief saying he couldn’t guarantee that there won’t be deaths among the more than 15,000 refugees and migrants in Greek island detention camps, Human Rights Watch said more should be moved to mainland shelters.

The group, whose earlier pleas have been ignored, said overcrowded facilities on Lesbos, Chios, Leros, Samos and Kos aren’t equipped to deal with the numbers in conditions it said were squalid and inhuman.
“Last winter, five asylum seekers, including a child, died in the miserably cold Moria camp on Lesvos,” Cosse said. “Greek and EU authorities have a responsibility to prevent such tragedies from happening again.”

Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas, after saying there wouldn’t be transfers because it would break a suspended European Union swap deal with Turkey, which has allowed human traffickers to flood the islands with people who had fled war and strife in the Middle East, and that it would encourage more to come.

Most of them wanted to move on to other more prosperous European countries before the borders were shut, dumping the problem on Greece during a crushing economic crisis.

Despite the transfer of almost 3,000 people since early December, the detention centers and camps on the islands still have almost 11,000 people in facilities with a total capacity of just 5,576, HRW said, adding that more than 1,000 people have arrived to the Greek islands during the same period.

“While Prime Minister (Alexis) Tsipras’ decision to move 5,000 asylum seekers from the islands to the mainland is beneficial for those moved, it is still a half measure that leaves thousands others out in the cold,” said Eva Cosse, Greece Researcher at HRW, referring to a commitment made by the administration at the start of the month.

“It’s an important start but more is needed, including support from other EU governments, to make sure that no one has to spend the winter in a freezing tent,” Cosse added.

In a campaign that began on Dec. 1, some 13 human rights and aid organizations called on Tsipras to end Greece’s policy of containing refugees and migrants on the islands, where he said he was “proud” of conditions showing them freezing in tents and living in feces and rubbish-strewn grounds.

HRW, other human rights groups and volunteer organizations said Greece must move them to the mainland, where another 50,000 are being housed and as the country struggles to deal with an overwhelming number of asylum applications.

The swap agreement also was supposed to send back to Turkey people who weren’t eligible, mostly economic migrants and not refugees who ran from war and other life-threatening reasons, but only a handful have been returned.

The Greek government, HRW said, is expected to introduce a bill in Parliament in the coming days to speed the asylum process, with refugees and migrants waiting up to two years and more to be processed and stuck on the islands.

More than 13,500 asylum seekers remain trapped on the Greek islands in deplorable conditions as winter began, HRW said, calling on Greece and the EU to transfer them to decent living shelters so none are left out in the cold, which Mouzalas said they weren’t at the same time he said some could die because they are.

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