World Bulletin / News Desk
Amnesty International has highlighted the plight of more than 46,000 asylum seekers stranded in “appalling conditions” in Greece, who remain at risk of being forgotten as leaders focus on implementation of the recently agreed EU-Turkey deal.
In a report released Monday under the title “Trapped in Greece: An Avoidable Refugee Crisis”, the nongovernmental organization examined the situation of refugees and migrants in Greece, especially in terms of their shelter and human rights protection after the Greek-Macedonian border was shut down.
On March 7, EU announced in Brussels that “irregular flows of migrants along the Western Balkans route have now come to an end.” The next day, no one was allowed to cross the border from Greece to Macedonia, leaving over 46,000 refugees and migrants stranded in mainland Greece as of April 11, it said.
“At the same time, the EU promise of opening up a legal way out of Greece for asylum-seekers has remained largely unfulfilled. According to the information provided by the European Commission on April 12, only 615 of the 66,400 asylum-seekers pledged to be relocated from Greece in September 2015, had been transferred to another EU member state, largely due to the lack of political will on the part of receiving states,” the report said.
While Greece has, with EU assistance, opened 31 temporary accommodation sites on the mainland with capacity for some 33,000 asylum seekers and migrants, the conditions in many of these overcrowded, under-resourced facilities, are inadequate for all but a few days. “They certainly do not meet the standards required for the lengthy stays that migrants and asylum seekers are now consigned to,” it added.
There are currently more than 53,000 refugees and migrants in Greece as opposed to the maximum capacity of the accommodation sites of 33,640 people, according to the latest from a refugee coordination body.
Between 3,000 and 5,000 people stay at an informal settlement in the port of Piraeus in Athens, with only minimal services offered by volunteers, some few humanitarian organizations and port authorities.
More than 10,000 people also remain at the Idomeni camp, next to the Greek-Macedonian border living in tents in very poor conditions.
Apart from the insufficient capacity for proper accommodation, information on the asylum procedures have also fallen short of the real needs so far, according to the report.
Amnesty International’s research in February and March in Lesbos reveals that in the camp of Moria, the majority of arrivals had no contact with the asylum agency, instead such requests were recorded by the police without receiving adequate information on rights and obligations, including the right to asylum and migration system.
In addition, the National Centre for Social Solidarity received 58 applications for placing 1,839 asylum applicants to reception facilities, while 12,771 adults and unaccompanied minors sought asylum in 2015.
Also, vulnerable groups like women and children have gone undetected, the report said. Women said that they did not feel safe and felt at risk of exploitation by men at some accommodation sites. Amnesty International also talked to unaccompanied children detained in police stations for up to 15 days until they could be transferred to a shelter for children.
Regarding the EU resettlement scheme, the numbers are so far disappointing, it said. In mid-February, the nationalities who were entitled to participate in the system were only those from Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, the Central African Republic, Yemen and Swaziland, and people without citizenship of these countries.
According to the report, nongovernmental organizations and authorities agree that the main problem with the relocation program lies in EU member states. Only 22 countries have so far allocated 7,030 seats from the 160,000 agreed by the EU in September 2015.
Amnesty International called on Greece to urgently improve the country’s asylum system and ensure access to effective protection for everyone trapped in the country. “As a priority, it must set up a mechanism for the systematic provision of information and the detection of individuals with special needs,” it added.