Cold snap shows up shelter gap
A cold snap that swept across the country Wednesday exposed delays in organizing adequate shelter for migrants sleeping rough in Athens and other Greek cities, with the capital’s central Victoria Square among the most congested.
The City of Athens had warned the government from Tuesday that the situation in Victoria “is becoming bad and may soon be out of control,” while demanding measures to “house and care for these people, while also seeing to the safety and quality of life of residents.”
In Victoria Square, dozens of refugees and migrants, including young children and elderly men and women, lay on the ground and on benches huddled in blankets and sleeping bags on Wednesday, as setting up tents has been forbidden in public spaces to prevent the appearance of makeshift camps.
Responding to mounting pressure to deal with the problem of migrants sleeping rough in the capital as thousands more arrive every day by ferry boat in a bid to ease the burden on the islands, the Ministry of Migration Policy on Wednesday announced a series of measures. It said it has commissioned city buses to transport people from Victoria Square to migrant reception facilities at Elaionas and Elliniko, adding that if these facilities reach capacity, a community center in the area of Kolonos will be made available to temporarily house 150-200 people, though municipal authorities said that the space cannot take more than 80.
The ministry also said that it has 200 vouchers for hotel accommodation, thanks to the support of the Caritas humanitarian group and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
Meanwhile, 3,100 more refugees and migrants disembarked at the port of Piraeus Wednesday morning from the islands, where the cold weather has also been taking a toll. On the island of Lesvos, a 6-month-old baby died at the local hospital after developing respiratory problems while staying with his family in the Kara Tepe camp. According to reports, the Syrian family had spent over a day outdoors after sailing from Turkey as they waited to be registered. A coroner is expected to determine the cause of death.
Lesvos has borne the brunt of an influx of refugees and migrants that has seen more than 800,000 people arriving in Greece from neighboring Turkey this year.