Refugees are being forced to live in freezing, snow-covered camps in Greece because EU states have failed to take in their share of asylum seekers, it’s been claimed.
Arctic weather swept into the Greek islands over recent days, leaving thousands to brave the conditions with a just flimsy tent canvas over their heads.
The UN’s refugee agency told Euronews pressure on the overcrowded island camps would be eased if EU countries had lived up to their promise to take in asylum seekers.
The European Commission announced a scheme in September 2015 to relocate 160,000 refugees from the countries worst-hit by the migrant crisis. It included pledges to redistribute around 66,000 refugees from Greece, but, nearly 18 months on, just 7,800 have been moved.
Save The Children said the lack of political will to take in asylum seekers elsewhere in the EU meant refugees and migrants were “freezing to death on Europe’s doorstep”.
Roland Schoenbauer, UNHCR’s spokesman in Greece, said: “If you are a person who has been forced to flee and who has lost everything it must be terrible if you end up sleeping on the floor in a flimsy tent with snow and wind making temperatures plummet under freezing.
“It is really harsh and living conditions for people in these camps are worse than normal, and normal is already unacceptably low.”
A deal between the Brussels and Ankara – which included the return of non-refugees to Turkey – has seen the number of migrants arriving on the Greek islands plummet in recent months.
But the reluctance of some EU states to take in asylum seekers already in Greece has created a bottleneck. Refugees have to be moved on from the Greek mainland to create space for people to be moved off the islands.
Schoenbauer told Euronews there were around 10,000 migrants and refugees spread across the Greek islands, with 4,600 at the Moria camp on Lesbos, one of the worst-hit by snow. It is one of five camps across Lesbos, Samos and Chios that are causing the most concern.
He said UNHCR had helped move around 130 of the most vulnerable people from Moria into proper accommodation since Monday (January 9).
“We are worried about the health of these vulnerable people, which is why we transferred some of them to buildings and why we call on the authorities to speed up registration so that more people can be moved to the mainland,” he added.
“We are really worried because people are so exposed and vulnerable to the elements and vulnerable to tensions and violence because of the overcrowding and because of the unacceptable slowness of registration and because of the lack of European solidarity when it comes to relocating asylum seekers out of Greece.”
Eugenio Ambrosi, director of the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) EU office, said his organisation was involved with seven refugee camps on the Greek mainland and all but two had seen refugees moved to hotels during the cold weather.
He said IOM was still waiting for Greek government authorisation to move some of the other refugees from their warehouse-like structure to hotels. It’s also being held up by Brussels, who, he says, has not approved a reallocation of funding to pay for the transfer.
“I wouldn’t be able to speculate why they [the authorisations] haven’t been received, the fact remains it is the stumbling block to moving people out of the warehousing,” said Ambrosi.
“It’s important the conditions provided are as good as possible. I think part of the problem is the situation in Greece has been complicated for quite some time. There has been an accumulation of issues and challenges.
“The most relevant factor [for this situation] is the very slow rate of acceptance by European relocating states to make available the slots they have committed to.
“If the relocation had of gone faster you would have less people in Greece and by having less people you would have had an easier possibility of handling the winter problem, because you have to take care of less people.”
European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said it was doing the utmost to help.
She added: “Of course, ensuring adequate reception conditions and managing the refugee centers in Greece is a responsibility first and foremost of the Greek authorities.”
Euronews has asked the Greek government to respond to this article but has yet to receive a response.
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