With winter fast approaching and migrant reception centers on the Aegean islands reaching breaking point due to overcrowding, 20 human rights groups have written a letter to the Greek government calling for immediate action.
Greece should act to end a “containment policy” that forces asylum seekers arriving on the Greek islands to remain in overcrowded and unsafe facilities, the human rights and aid groups said in the letter, 19 months after a similar open letter to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged the government to move migrants to the mainland, where better conditions and services are available.
“This remains a matter of life and death,” the International Rescue Committee’s country director in Greece, Jana Frey, said. “There is absolutely no excuse for the conditions on the islands right now – thousands of people crammed into overcrowded and desperately under-resourced facilities. We are in a race against time. Lives will be lost – again – this winter – unless people are allowed to move, in an organized and voluntary fashion, to the mainland,” she said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday reported that members of the group recently asked to meet with Tsipras to discuss the most urgent needs on the islands and provide recommendations for addressing this increasingly dire situation. They have received no response, HRW said.
Over the past month, the Greek government has transferred 2,000 people from Samos and Lesvos to the mainland as a one-time emergency measure. When the government announced the initiative in October, those islands were already 5,000 people over capacity. It was clear then that the measure, while helpful, would not suffice, HRW said.
The overcrowding has fueled frustration among migrants and provoked riots at many camps. Meanwhile, the growing migrant population has caused friction with locals on many islands. On Wednesday, tensions erupted in the main port of Lesvos after a small group of Afghan asylum seekers attempted to set up camp in a public square, demanding that they be transferred to the mainland.
Shopkeepers on Mytilene’s Sapphous Square asked police to remove the migrants. Later far-right protesters arrived at the square and started hurling insults at the migrants. Riot police intervened before the situation could escalate.