UNHCR urges action to ease conditions at Greek island camps


The UN Refugee Agency on Friday expressed concern at deteriorating conditions on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands, as the number of new arrivals, which accelerated in August, is putting pressure on overcrowded reception facilities.

Speaking at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, UNHCR spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly said the situation is most worrying on Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Leros, which have received the largest number of arrivals, including many children. More than half come from conflict-hit Syria and Iraq, she noted, adding that arrivals in August came to 3,695 against 2,249 in July.

“While there has been progress to date, UNHCR is calling for robust action to improve conditions in reception facilities. We are also calling for the urgent deployment of additional national services staff, especially in the areas of health, psychosocial support and protection of unaccompanied children,” Pouilly said.

“Arrivals on Lesvos, Samos and Leros have now outpaced the rate at which people are being authorized by the authorities to transfer to the mainland, further worsening already very challenging living conditions. Estimated departures for the mainland last month were 2,561 against 3,695 arrivals, based on data from the authorities,” she added.

The UNCHR further stressed the physical and mental strain sustained by migrants and refugees who have been trapped at reception and protesting centers for months. “The threat of violence, self-harm and sexual assault is extremely worrying and more security is needed,” Pouilly warned.

According to the agency, the situation is most critical in Samos, as more than 1,900 people remain “crammed into an area meant for 700” at the reception center in Vathy, despite the recent transfer of some 640 people to the mainland. Among them there are more than 600 children as well as pregnant women, serious medical cases and people with disabilities, the UNHCR added.

Chios saw more than 500 arrivals in August, according to the UNHCR, and the Vial center currently has over 1,100 people, including more than 100 who lack proper accommodation.

On Lesvos, tension remains high at Moria, the agency warned, pointing to two riots that broke out in recent weeks “in protest at the slow pace of registration and asylum processing for certain nationalities, as well as the crowded conditions.” The island is currently hosting some 5,000 people,  Pouilly said.

On Leros, the number of migrants and refugees on the island came to 649 on Friday, according to UNHCR figures, with more than 290 arrivals being recorded in August.