UNCHR Urges Faster Decongestion of Overcrowded Greek Island Hotspots

February 7, 2020

GENEVA – The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNCHR) has asked the Greek government to accelerate plans for decongesting overcrowded reception and identification centres for migrants and refugees on the Greek islands by transferring larger numbers of asylum seekers to appropriate accommodation on the mainland.

UNCHR also declared its readiness to support the transfers and in finding fast solutions for increasing reception capacity.

During a press conference at Palais des Nations in Geneva on Friday, it was pointed out that thousands of women, men and children were currently living in small tents and were exposed to the cold and rain with minimal or no access to heating, electricity or hot water. Hygiene conditions were described as precarious and health problems were increasing, speakers said. Despite the dedication of the medical staff and volunteers at hotspots, many people did not have access to a doctor because of a shortage of the required medical staff at both reception centres and local hospitals. Poor living conditions and the long waits required to complete asylum procedures fill asylum seekers with fear and anxiety, they said.

According to UNHCR, the majority of asylum seekers and migrants were families. One third of the population were children, most of them under the age of 12, while over 36,000 asylum-seekers were currently living in reception centres on five Greek islands which had been built to host 5,400 people. Constant European support was required in terms of funding, knowhow and solidarity in order for Greece to be in able to address the problem, speakers noted.

UNCHR welcomed the creation of a dedicated ministry, the Migration and Asylum Ministry, to increase the government’s ability to address the problem. Planned increases in the Greek Asylum Agency’s staff and a doubling of EASO staff are expected to help reduce the huge number of pending asylum requests.

The refugee and migrant arrivals in Greece in 2019 are a small percentage of arrivals in 2015 and 2016, when one million people arrived on the Greek islands, UNCHR said. Nevertheless, the 59,000 arrivals by sea in 2019, combined with the lengthy asylum procedures, have led to sharply deteriorating conditions at island hotspots.

Finally, UNCHR referring to the tension recently seen on the Greek islands, noting that the local communities’ trust needs to be restored through effective and coordinated governmental action and strong EU support.


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