With winter here, thousands of people still trapped on Greek islands

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

Contact information

Florian Oel | Brussels | florian.oel@oxfam.org | office +32 2 234 11 15 | mobile +32 473 56 22 60

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