Aid workers warn of catastrophe in Greek refugee camps

Date: 
September, 2019
Country: 
Greece

Children being bitten by scorpions, rats and snakes; hundreds being forced to use a single shower; the stench of human excrement never far away; and food shortages becoming the norm. One by one, Sophie McCann lists the degradations of life for refugees detained on Lesbos, the Greek island on the frontline of a new surge of asylum seekers desperate to reach Europe.

McCann, a British advocacy manager with Médecins Sans Frontières, like other aid workers, is now raising the alarm: at least 24,000 men, women and children trapped in vastly overcrowded Aegean island camps are being subjected to conditions so harrowing they bear all the hallmarks of humanitarian catastrophe. Four years after the greatest migration crisis in modern times, there are fears history is repeating itself.

“The level of human suffering is just indescribable,” says McCann, adding that incidents of self-harm, even among toddlers, have risen sharply. “I struggle to find the right words because none can convey the sheer misery and inhumanity of a situation that in Europe is frankly unbelievable.”

In recent weeks Greek authorities have stepped up emergency evacuations, transferring some 1,800 people deemed to be vulnerable to camps on the mainland.

“But,” says McCann, “these cycles of emergency decongestion won’t solve the underlining problems. This is a policy-driven crisis where the EU has sought to contain and externalise the problem [of migration] to the Greek isles. The EU-Turkey deal was supposed to be a ‘temporary and extraordinary measure’ to reduce flows and open safe legal alternatives to smugglers. Instead it has created camps where people are robbed of their dignity and forced to live in horrendous conditions.”

She said that in July and August, 73 children were referred to MSF’s paediatric mental health teams in Lesbos: three had attempted to kill themselves and 17 had self-harmed.

The reception centre in Samos is even worse, “running seven times above capacity”, noted Stella Nanou, the UN refugee agency’s spokeswoman in Athens.

“The increase in recent sea arrivals has put additional strain on already overcrowded facilities on the islands where conditions remain dire,” she said.

Source: The Guardian