Migrants facing catastrophe in Greek camps - aid workers

Aid workers say that food shortages and inadequate facilities could soon lead to a catastrophe for tens of thousands of asylum-seekers crowded into camps on Greece’s Aegean islands, the Guardian reported on Tuesday.   

Children are being bitten by scorpions, rats and snakes and facing severe food shortages due to a surge of migrant arrivals on Lesbos, says Sophie McCann of aid group Médecins Sans Frontières.

“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,” the Guardian said.

“The level of human suffering is just indescribable,” said McCann. 

In July and August more than 13,000 people landed on Lesbos, Samos, Kos, Leros and Chios, more than half the total arrivals for 2019, according to the Guardian, adding that the uptick has continued into September.

“It has happened so quickly, aid organisations feel overwhelmed,” said Sofia Malmqvist at the Athens branch of the International Red Cross. “We are deeply concerned. There are a lot of children,” she added. “What is going to happen in the winter?”

Economic woes and rising unemployment have spurred mounting anti-refugee sentiment in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly warned that his government will be forced to “open the gates” if the EU fails to deliver the €6 billion it promised in the 2016 refugee deal. 

Turkey currently hosts close to 4 million displaced Syrians with the prospect of that number escalating if yet more flee across the border from Idlib, the rebel stronghold that has become the focus of a Russian-backed offensive from the Syrian government, the Guardian said. 

Greece’s new government has put in place measures intended to reduce the number of arrivals, including new patrol boats in the Aegean and a collaboration with Frontex, the EU’s border agency, using a zeppelin to survey maritime borders, University of Liverpool lecturer Gemma Bird wrote in The Conversation. 

New arrivals in Samos are no longer given space in either a tent or a container, but have to find a tent for themselves, either with help from a local aid group or by buying one themselves, Bird said. 

“Those staying here have very little access to piped water. They rely mainly on the 1.5 litres of bottled water they are provided,” said Bird, adding that MSF staff had expressed concerns about dehydration. 

Lesbos’ Moria camp is now home to 10,400 people, though it was designed to host 3,000. In recent weeks Greek authorities have transferred some 1,800 people deemed vulnerable to camps on the mainland.

“But,” McCann told the Guardian, “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 to the Greek isles.”

The EU-Turkey deal, McCann added, “has created camps where people are robbed of their dignity and forced to live in horrendous conditions”.