NEWS

Snow leaves refugees and government exposed

TAGS: Migration, Weather, Politics

Government officials were trying Monday to find an emergency solution that would allow them to temporarily move some 1,000 refugees out of the Moria camp on the island of Lesvos to protect them from the snow and freezing weather.

Authorities met Monday with representatives of the local hoteliers’ association but were unable to reach an agreement as the union held an emergency general assembly three months ago, when members decided that hotel rooms should not be made available for refugees.

“We understand that there is an emergency but for the decision to be reversed there needs to be another [union] general assembly,” the president of the Lesvos Hoteliers’ Association, Pericles Antoniou, told Kathimerini.

Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas admitted that the situation on the islands due to the sub-zero temperatures is not acceptable but suggested that the main reason for this is that locals have obstructed plans to expand reception facilities so migrants can be moved out of the hotspots, where some are housed in tents. Giorgos Kyritsis, a government spokesman for refugee issues, told Skai TV that less than 1,000 people are still living in tents on the islands.

European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud described the situation as “untenable” and said that Brussels is prepared to help the Greek government. However, she stressed that Athens is mainly responsible for the conditions at the camps.

One of the non-governmental organizations working on the islands, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) raged against Athens and Brussels for the refugees’ plight. “These families are paying the price of European cynicism and the reprehensible deal with Turkey,” said MSF’s head of the mission in Greece, Clement Perrin, who called on Greek authorities to take emergency measures to provide “dignified living conditions” for the migrants.

New Democracy attacked the government over the same issue. “The supposedly sensitive ones are again proven to be cynical and unreliable,” said shadow migration policy minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis. He also turned his fire on Mouzalas, who had previously pledged that refugees would not be exposed to the cold again.

“Where did the European Commission’s millions for the refugees go?” asked the conservative lawmaker. “How much went to non-governmental organizations, and which ones? What did each of them do and how many people have been hired by them?”

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