Over 20,000 migrants now trapped on Greek Islands

Published: 10th September 2018

As the EU plans to set up ‘controlled centres’ for refugees and other migrants across Europe, the number of people trapped in deplorable conditions in EU ‘hotspots’ and other camps on the Greek islands has reached an unprecedented 20,110, according to Greek government figures.

Reacting to the news, Marion Bouchetel, advocacy officer for Oxfam in Greece’s, said:

“Thousands of refugees and other migrants are trapped on the Greek islands in trailers and tents that are blazing hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. Access to running water is limited. Unaccompanied children, pregnant women, and people with physical and mental health conditions have to wait over 10 months before they can even meet with an asylum officer to determine what might happen to them, and whether they have any chance of seeing their families again. This wait is agonising.

“Right now, camps on the islands are dangerously overcrowded. The situation is particularly alarming for women, who are at heightened risk of sexual violence and abuse. EU policy, supported by the Greek Government, aims to trap people on the Aegean islands so that they can be sent to Turkey under the EU-Turkey deal, rather than allowing them to claim asylum in Europe.

“If the EU continues its plans to set up ‘controlled centres’ for asylum seekers, many more people will be trapped in dreadful conditions. Instead of creating more camps, the EU should reform its asylum system to ensure responsibility for protecting migrants is shared between member states while their asylum claims are processed. No one should be forced to live in these appalling conditions.”

Notes to editors

  • Spokespeople for interviews and background are available in Lesvos and Brussels.
  • The EU has announced plans to set up ‘controlled centres’ for migrants and asylum seekers inside the European Union, and ‘disembarkation platforms’ in countries in North Africa, for migrants rescued at sea. Based on Oxfam's experience working with refugees and other migrants in Greece, Italy and on the Balkans, we argue that these plans are a recipe for failure.
  • Currently nearly 8,800 people are living in Moria camp on Lesvos, which has an official capacity of 3,100 people. The area designed to accommodate single women is also at triple its capacity, and around 120 women have been forced to sleep in other areas not adapted to shelter them. 
  • People often spend months waiting for their asylum claims to be processed. Many refugees do not have access to legal aid, either because they are not informed of their right to a lawyer or because there are not enough lawyers available. Despite the right for every asylum seeker to free legal aid at the appeal stage in Greece, there has been no state-appointed lawyer providing this service since May 2018.
  • The governor of the Greek region of the North Aegean has recently set a deadline to the authorities operating the Moria ‘hotspot’ in Lesvos and threatened to close the camp, saying the conditions were inappropriate, out of control and dangerous to public health and the environment.
  • [Update] 19 NGOs working in the Moria 'hotspot' have decried the conditions at the site, now worse than ever. Read the full joint statement of 13 September 2018.

Contact information

Florian Oel | Brussels | florian.oel@oxfam.org | office +32 2 234 1115 | mobile +32 473 562260

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