Human Rights Watch Says Lesbos Refugee Center “Open-Air Prison”

November 22, 2018

Human Rights Watch has joined a chorus of groups complaining about conditions for more than 74,000 refugees and migrants being held in detention centers and camps, singling out the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, which the BBC called “the worst in the world.”

HRW said it fears a humanitarian disaster with the onset of winter and more than 7,200 in the camp on Lesbos living in atrocious conditons, blaming the European Union as well for

“Thousands of people seeking protection in Europe are deprived of their most basic rights to humane and dignified treatment on Lesbos,” said Todor Gardos, Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The EU-backed containment policy is aggravating long-lasting suffering of asylum seekers, turning Lesbos into an open-air prison.”

On a visit to Lesbos from October 16-17, the group said it saw the level of overcrowding, unsuitable accommodations, and despair, and that it interviewed 26 asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Somalia, including families and women and men traveling alone.

In September, the Regional Authority of the Northern Aegean, which is responsible for public health, said the Moria camp posed a threat to public health and the environment due to overcrowding, uncontrolled sewage spills, broken toilet waste pipes, and generally poor hygienic conditions that could abet the spread of infectious disease.

The ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition has ignored similar laments from 20 other groups while Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he was “proud” of conditions in the camps where a video earlier this year showed open sewage and a lack of toilets and basic human needs.

Under the containment policy enforced since the March 2016 EU-Turkey deal, Greek authorities confine asylum seekers on the Aegean islands, including Lesbos, until their asylum claims are adjudicated which has taken up to two years and more, setting off frustration and violence.

An estimated 18,000 asylum seekers are confined to Greek islands, most of them on Lesbos and Samos; just over 50 percent are women and children. According to the UNHCR, over 4,000 people already identified as “vulnerable” and eligible for transfer are stuck on the islands.

The situation has become worse since the European Union closed its borders to refugees and migrants, dumping the problem largely on Greece and with other EU countries reneging on pledges to help take in some of the overload.

HRW said conditions on Lesbos violate EU and Greek laws that require Greece to provide an adequate standard of living for asylum seekers, guaranteeing their subsistence and protecting their physical and mental health.

The government should act swiftly to enact a recent pledge to create 6,000 new accommodation places on the mainland that provide an adequate standard of living, it added, and prepare for winter by ensuring adequate and secure shelter, safe drinking water and sanitation, an enabling environment for good hygiene, and protection.


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