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'It's become a struggle for survival': Athens told to act on migrant camps on Greek islands

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Children fill bottles with water next to a pile of garbage on the island of Lesbos
Children fill bottles with water next to a pile of garbage on the island of Lesbos -
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The Council of Europe has slammed Greece for the conditions migrants are living under on the Aegean islands, with the Commissioner for Human Rights saying people are now in a “struggle for survival”.

At the end of a five-day visit to facilities in Lesbos, Samos and Corinth, Dunja Mijatović spoke of the dramatic deterioration in the living conditions for the people who have been living on the islands over the past 12 months.

She called for urgent measures and the transfer of asylum seekers from the islands to the mainland.

Calling it “an explosive situation'', she highlighted the unhygienic conditions in which migrants are being kept, in vastly overcrowded camps.

“People queue for hours to get food and to go to bathrooms when these are available. On Samos, families are chipping away at rocks to make some space on steep hillsides to set up their makeshift shelters, often made from trees they cut themselves. This no longer has anything to do with the reception of asylum seekers. This has become a struggle for survival.”

She welcomed the Greek government’s decision to transfer 20,000 migrants from the islands to the mainland by the end of the year but called for it to happen as a matter of urgency.

“If not urgently and adequately addressed, these abysmal conditions, combined with existing tensions, risk leading to further tragic events,” she said.

New asylum bill

On Thursday, the Greek parliament approved legislation amending the asylum process — a bill, which NGOs say could restrict protection for asylum seekers.

The government said the new legislation seeks to codify and clarify what are now disparate rules into one rulebook and to deport the rejected applications.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament before the vote that the bill was also meant to send a clear message:

"Enough is enough, enough with those people who know that they are not entitled to asylum and yet they attempt to cross into and stay in our country," he said.

"Those people will be quickly returned to Turkey... or to their country and will lose all the money they gave the despicable traffickers".

But several NGOs and the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said it could weaken the protection of migrants.

Plans to move migrants to the mainland

Earlier this month Greece announced plans to transfer migrants from the Moria camp on Lesbos, which the UN UN refugee agency estimates is currently housing around 12,000 people in tents and shipping containers. The camp has an official capacity of 3,000.

More: Fire, clashes, one dead at crowded Greek migrant camp on Lesbos

At least one person, a woman, was killed when a fire broke out at a container inside the crowded refugee camp. More than a dozen others were hurt as clashes later broke out between refugees and emergency services.

Greece has been dealing with a resurgence in refugee and migrant flows in recent weeks from neighbouring Turkey. Nearly a million refugees fleeing war in Syria and migrants crossed from Turkey to Greece’s islands in 2015.

More than 9,000 people arrived in August, the highest number in the three years since the European Union and Ankara implemented a deal to shut off the Aegean migrant route.

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