Immigrants in Greece face winter crisis after public sector cuts

November, 2018

Greece’s asylum system is hamstrung by public sector cuts imposed during the country’s EU bailouts, an UN envoy has said, as campaigners warned of a looming winter crisis for refugees and migrants.

MEPs blame Europe’s asylum system for humanitarian conditions in Greece, where thousands are stranded in squalid camps that are a danger to physical and mental health.

Philippe Leclerc, the UN refugee agency’s representative in Athens, said EU policy on Greece during the debt crisis was “totally legitimate”, but pointed to unintended consequences for migration.

“It is a state that is affected by the consequences of the financial crisis and public control spending measures … [so] you have an emergency situation on the islands and the mainland, where the state is not fully equipped to respond.”

He was speaking to the Guardian days after the UNHCR called on Greece to take “urgent steps” to improve conditions for 11,000 people in dirty and unsafe camps on the islands of Samos and Lesbos.

Senior European sources are appalled by the camps, especially Samos, where 4,000 people are living in wretched conditions at the Vathy reception centre, six times above capacity.

New arrivals are pitching flimsy tents on steep slopes around the camps and have no access to electricity, running water or lavatories. Inside the camps, broken toilets and showers mean that people live next to raw sewage. Camp dwellers also have to contend with snakes, and rats feeding on uncollected waste. “This is supposed to be the richest and most civilised continent in the world,” said the Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld. “This is happening under our noses.”

EU officials think that Greek ministries are unable to coordinate or spend EU funds to help asylum seekers: the EU has allocated €1.6bn (about £1.4bn) since 2015, but at least €554m has not been spent by Greek authorities.

Source: The Guardian