Almost a month after the signing of the EU-Turkey deal, the situation for refugees across Greece remains chaotic and inhumane. Around 50,000 people are stranded in appalling conditions in improvised camps and detention centres across the country. In what is becoming unbearable heat, many are unable to access the asylum system and are rapidly losing hope of joining their relatives or finding a place to live in peace.
In Idomeni camp, Greece, thousands are stranded following the closure of the Balkans route to Europe. Violence from border police and smugglers has been erupting in the camps. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams are treating babies as young as six weeks old for exposure to tear gas and children are being treated for wounds from rubber bullets.
MSF teams are also dealing with the health consequences of long-term settlement in a camp which does not have adequate shelter, health or sanitation provisions. MSF is currently collaborating with national authorities to conduct an immunization campaign that will vaccinate children from preventable disease.
“Some of these children were born on European soil, others have been displaced for months — some for years — and most of them have not received all of the routine childhood vaccination that they need,” said Emmanuel Massart, MSF's field coordinator in Idomeni. “Europe has decided to stop thousands of people from moving through Greece, but did not properly plan to address their basic needs. This was a fully predictable crisis, caused by the deliberate neglect of European governments and institutions.”
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Terrible living conditions
The situation is not any better in Athens where, in spite of the relief brought by volunteers and local charities, basic living conditions are not being met. In Elliniko camp, there are around 4,000 refugees — mostly from Afghanistan — who started a hunger strike in protest of the camp’s dire living conditions. Police officers come to the Piraeus camp several times a day to persuade families to board buses and be taken to government-run camps until their papers come through. But many refuse, despite the risk of being evicted.
Once inside, it is not hard to see why people do not want to come to the camps. The offered services are still far from what is advertised in Piraeus. Near the Albanian border — in Ioannina city — the Katsikas government-run camp hosts 1,500 asylum seekers who spend their days in the heat and freeze at night. They sleep in tents without mattresses and have nothing but sheets to act as a barrier between their bodies and the cold, hard and rocky ground. A Greek army truck comes twice a day to distribute food and water. People spends their days avoiding snakes and scorpions, while starting camp fires to sterilize water in order to prevent their children from suffering from diarrhea.
“Maybe we are lucky because we are not stuck on the islands but we are not much better off than they are. We are also stuck here in this terrible place with no idea of how long we will live here and how we will survive,” said Khaled, a Yazidi man from Sinjar Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan. "We did not expect to live like this in Europe. We came here to seek safety after ISIS had killed us, kidnapped and raped our women and exiled us. The whole world was watching our tragedy but no one did a thing to help my people.”
The Greek “prison” islands
On the shores of the Greek islands, thousands of people — the majority of whom fled wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — are detained behind layers of razor wire. Following the hasty implementation of the EU-Turkey deal, men, women and children are locked up without charge, many beyond the maximum 25-day period. They are living in putrid spaces designed to temporarily host people for only a few days.
“The hotspot centre in Samos is currently at four times its intended capacity, conditions are miserable and tension is at breaking point,” said Julien Delozanne, field coordinator for MSF in Samos. “So little information is provided to those who are imprisoned here, they are unable to see what the future holds for them. As far as we understand, unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable people are excluded from the EU-Turkey deal and will not be sent back to Turkey, but still they are detained. The mismanagement and poor planning Europe is demonstrating in Samos is beyond belief.”
Meanwhile on Lesbos, those who have been detained for more than 25 days are allowed to move about on the island but are left with virtually no assistance. Families and unaccompanied minors are separated from single adult males but many vulnerable cases slip through the cracks and conditions in the camps remain well below acceptable standards. “In our projects all over Greece we are witnessing the consequences of inhumane policies that have left thousands of people stranded and forgotten without access to basic services or information,” says Stefano Argenziano, operations coordinator for MSF's migration projects. “European states and authorities have decided to make deterrence their only priority and give up on providing protection and assistance to these people despite their moral and legal responsibility to do so.”