New report condemns conditions in Moria camp, prompting Greek government vows to do more

Greece and its EU partners are failing vulnerable people seeking protection in Europe, said UK-based aid agency Oxfam in its latest report “Vulnerable and Abandoned”, released on 9 January 2019.

The report revealed key failures from the Greek government, for instance, that there only one doctor employed by the Greek government at the camp, responsible for assessing the health conditions of as many as 2,000 new arrivals in one month. The doctor eventually quit in in November 2018, leaving people with no medical support for over a month.

An asylum seeker from Afghanistan said in an interview with Euractiv: “Seeing a doctor is very difficult, there is only one for the whole camp. You really have to be on the brink of death for them to take care of you.”

About 5,000 migrants and asylum seekers are currently living on Lesbos island, with a majority in Moria refugee camp. “The conditions in the camp are making people’s mental state and physical health worse, especially with the winter conditions and very low temperatures,” said Oxfam spokesperson Marion Bouchetel in an interview with The Globe and Mail. The report added that migrants and asylum seekers are living in unheated tents without sufficient access to washing facilities and toilets, and that the winter temperature is only making their situation worse.

Aid workers supporting those in Moria are equally appalled by the conditions. “The situation in Moria is beyond belief,” said a staff member of Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) on Euractiv. “I’ve been regularly coming here since 2017 and every time I think that it can’t be worse when I next visit. But it is.”

The islands are a main point of entry for irregular migrants crossing over from neighbouring Turkey. To stem the flow of irregular migrants, the EU struck a migration deal with Turkey in 2016. Under the deal, all irregular arrivals will be sent back to Turkey after an assessment by Greek authorities. For each Syrian returned to Turkey, a Syrian will be resettled, with priority given to those who have not tried to illegally enter the EU. However, the slow asylum process is leaving families in these camps for years. “Due to a lack of staff, many people who arrive now in Lesbos have their first asylum interview scheduled for 2020,” said Oxfam.

In response to the harsh criticism from Oxfam and other agencies, The Greek government said on 10 January 2019 that it would improve conditions in overflowing migrant camps. “Doctors will be sent in by the end of January,” migration minister Dimitris Vitsas told a news conference.

“Two new camps with capacity for 1,500 people will be created in mainland Greece to relieve the islands,” he said, adding that over 29,000 people have been transferred to mainland centres from the islands in 2018. Vitsas said Greece was handling more than 70,000 migrants now.

TMP – 20/01/2019