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More than 13,500 refugees and other migrants remain trapped on the Greek islands in deplorable conditions as winter begins, a coalition of 13 humanitarian and human rights organisations including Oxfam said today. Oxfam calls on the Greek government and its EU partners to transfer immediately at least 5,500 asylum seekers from the squalid island camps to the Greek mainland and provide them with adequate accommodation and access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.
The Greek government committed in early December to move 5,000 asylum seekers from the islands to the mainland as an emergency measure, before the onset of winter. However, less than 3,000 people have been moved since then, while more than 1,000 people have newly arrived on the Greek islands in the same period. Currently, 11,005 people live in so-called EU ‘hotspots’ on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros, and Kos, which have a total capacity of just 5,576 – that is 5,429 over capacity.
Oxfam’s head of mission in Greece, Nicola Bay, said:
“This is the third year in a row where a humanitarian tragedy is happening inside the European Union. With temperatures dropping, thousands of people are still trapped in appalling conditions in EU-run ‘hotspots’ because of the EU’s policy of containing people on the Greek islands.
“The Greek government and its EU partners must end the suffering of people on Europe’s shores. They must make sure people can live in dignified conditions and are able to exert their rights.”
On 1 December, the group of 13 NGOs began a countdown to the official start of winter on 21 December. They called on Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and EU governments to act before the onset of winter to end the containment policy which blocks asylum seekers from leaving the islands, immediately transfer people to improved conditions on the mainland and take concrete measures so that no asylum seekers are left out in the cold.
The NGO coalition will continue to highlight the deplorable conditions asylum seekers trapped on the islands face. The groups will press the Greek government and the EU for a more effective migration management that protects the rights and reduces the suffering of people arriving in Greece.
The Greek government is expected to introduce a bill in parliament in the coming days to accelerate the asylum process with the aim of accelerating returns to Turkey, under the EU-Turkey deal. Shortening asylum procedures at the expense of the quality of the process would put asylum seekers at risk of being denied the protection they need, Oxfam said.
Such an approach is the wrong way to alleviate overcrowding or address the systemic issues linked to the containment policy and EU-Turkey deal that have created this inhumane situation on the islands. Any reform should ensure that asylum seekers have access to fair and efficient asylum procedures that allow for all asylum claims to be fairly examined on their individual merit.
Notes to editors
- Oxfam spokespeople are available for interview and background in Athens and Brussels.
- At the end of July 2017, the Greek Government took over control of the management and funding of the response on the Greek islands from ECHO, the European Commission’s humanitarian division. As a consequence, some humanitarian agencies have downsized or pulled out of the islands altogether, leading to gaps in vital services such as medical care.
- Oxfam and 12 other human rights and humanitarian organizations launched a campaign on 1 December calling on Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to immediately transfer people to the mainland by 21 December and to end the containment policy that traps people on the Greek islands.
- Oxfam works with refugees and migrants in Lesvos. We respond to the urgent needs of people arriving, including by providing legal aid through partners. Learn more about Oxfam’s humanitarian response in Greece.
- Oxfam calls for a change of approach in the EU’s Migration Agenda, which sets Europe’s policies on migration. An Oxfam report, based on extensive field experience, highlights the danger, abuse and denial of basic rights that people face linked to the Migration Agenda’s policies. Oxfam has developed eight principles for a more humane and effective approach.