By Marilia Platsa,
The year 2015 signalized the mass influx of asylum seekers who crossed the borders by employing all means they had to abandon the devastating situation in their country and pursue a different -more promised- future. Since then, Greece, in order to host these people, has established numerous reception centers and facilities; firstly, to ensure their immediate protection and secondly, to enable them via legal procedures to reach their final destination. However, the EU’s plan seems to have not been fruitful enough, leaving behind overcrowded camps and furious people struggling to survive.
According to the UNCHR, the term “refugee camps” refers to temporary facilities, which operate as a helping hand for those who have been forced to flee their homeland as a result of conflict, violence or persecution. These camps ensure their protection by supplying them with food, water, medical assistance and other necessary services. For a reception center to fulfill its duty, it should provide asylum seekers with a sufficient standard of living that allows the mental and physical well-being, dictated by the inalienable right of human dignity (article 55 IPA).
Nevertheless, a body, which will be in charge of monitoring and assessing the conditions in the Greek hotspots, is still to be established. Besides, the camps are not, by definition, appropriate for a long-lasting accommodation, since they aggravate their trauma and provoke the outbreak of various forms of violence. It is observed that the conditions inside the reception centers have been meliorated in comparison to the very first years after 2015. However, there is still a considerable number of them that infringe the EU and international law due to the lack of decent standard of living. Their remote and isolated locations, the sleep into ISO boxes for a long period of time, the absence of security and the difficulty in accessing social services, mainly for children and other vulnerable groups, transform the life in there into a race for survival. In addition to this, because of the further influx of migrants and refugees in 2019, many facilities have yet to get rid of the tents and the rubb halls that are considered to be unsuitable for long-term living. Some of the camps operate without the necessary prior Joint Ministerial Decision which means that they are not legally established. Another serious challenge is that camps are usually overcrowded, especially the ones based on the Aegean Islands. For instance, by the end of 2019 a camp with a capacity of 6.178 people hosted approximately over 38.000 asylum seekers whilst among them there were a crucial number of unaccompanied children (1809). A reasonable corollary is the outbreak of violence inside the facilities: domestic, gender or sexual based harassment. Researchers revealed that 1/3 of them have contemplated suicide, while the majority has mental issues such as post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and has attempted self-harm. The uncertainty about their future along with the lack of information provided to them concerning the necessary legal procedures and their rights, exacerbate the ongoing situation. Furthermore, there is limited or non-existent access to electricity, heating and hot water, leaving them exposed to the various weather conditions. Under these circumstances, the healthcare staff, including doctors and volunteers, is unable to take care of this significant amount of people, also taking into consideration the deficiency in medical equipment. Indeed, the UN Refugee Agency has many times decried the situation perpetuated in most of the camps, which calls for an immediate intervention of the Greek government.
Before the fire that utterly damaged the Moria camp, the latter constituted the biggest reception center in Europe. Although it had no education opportunities, legal services or health care to offer, the asylum seekers still preferred it over the new facility named Kara Tepe in Lesvos island. The reason is that Kara Tepe is a sea-side area which makes it perilous for young children whilst it simultaneously is exposed to extreme weather conditions of heat wave, rain and cold, as highlighted by the experts.
Moreover, particular attention needs to be paid to the response to Covid-19 that the government has decided to follow regarding the camps. The “Agdoniki Plan” stipulates that the facilities should be quarantined and both confirmed and suspected cases should be isolated and be rehabbed inside the camp. The plan entails also that they are permitted to leave the camp exclusively from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Only 100 people can leave per hour, which corresponds to one member on behalf of each family. For those that arrive during the pandemic it is obligatory to be quarantined for 14 days before entering the reception centers. Covid-19 has undoubtedly added a new burden to the already impaired healthcare system. Besides, the overcrowded camps do not allow for a 2-metre distance and appropriate sanitation, posing a threat not only to the public health inside the camps but also outside of them.
In 2020, the European Commission proposed a new Pact on Migration and Asylum, which seeks to facilitate the legal procedures concerning the asylum and the migration system and promotes the notions of “fair sharing of responsibility and solidarity” among the Member-States. This novice legislation brings hope for a better-coordinated system of tackling the refugee and migration crisis by allocating the obligations that spring from international and EU law to all the member states and not exclusively to Greece’s hands.
It is evident that the conditions prevailing in the reception and identification centers constitute a barrier to the well-being of the people having an irreparable impact on the development of the children and the behavior of the adults. The harsh conditions are able to generate violence and impede an effective solution on this humanitarian and economic challenge. On the other hand, the EU and its member-states should join their forces to cope with this situation while in tandem show, in practice, respect to the statutory law. Without a doubt, it is an intractable matter that should be prioritized in the EU’s agenda.
- Asylum Information Database, Conditions in reception facilities: Greece, Available here
- European Commission, A fresh start on migration: Building confidence and striking a new balance between responsibility and solidarity, Available here
- Smith H., Thousands of refugees in mental health crisis after years on Greek islands, The Guardian, Available here
- The UN Refugee Agency, Refugee Camps, Available here