Greek islands bursting at the seams

Greek islands bursting at the seams

The latest spike in migrant arrivals in Greece has caught the government off guard, with critics saying it has no plan of action as the situation has become reminiscent of the crisis at the end of 2015, when thousands of people flooded into the country.

Without a concrete plan, government officials are reportedly hoping for bad weather to save the day and limit arrivals.

In the last week, 1,194 people arrived on Greece’s Aegean islands from the coast of Turkey, adding to the thousands of asylum seekers who have been trapped at camps for months and showing increasing signs of frustration, with protests and scuffles becoming all the more frequent.

“Incidents and troubles are everyday life for us. Now people are sleeping on the streets or in Sappho Square in the city center,” Lesvos Mayor Spyridon Galinos told Kathimerini.

“With the first rain we will have floods and management problems,” he added.

As winter approaches, asylum seekers on Lesvos, Samos and Chios are still living in tents designed for summer weather, while others are sleeping outside under blankets.

The fact that 40 percent of arrivals are children, 20 percent are women and a large number have health problems, makes matters even more ominous.

Moreover, the increasing numbers are taking a toll on infrastructure at hotspots.

“Many people leave hotspots and set up tents in the woods because the water and sanitation networks have been destroyed and living conditions in the camps are intolerable,” a member of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) told Kathimerini.

Police sources say the fact that there have been no returns of Syrians to Turkey, as provided for in the EU Joint Declaration, is among the main reasons behind the congestion.

Meanwhile, as authorities on Chios dismantled on Monday the last of the rub hall tents at Souda migrant camp, more than a dozen human rights groups and aid organizations called on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to end the “containment policy” with regard to asylum seekers in camps.

Four of the five camps on the islands have well over the number of residents that they were originally designed to shelter.

With the latest data showing that more than 13,000 people, mainly Iraqis and Syria refugees, are crowded into these camps, the island are bursting at the seams.

“We urge [Tsipras] to put an end to the ongoing ‘containment policy’ of trapping asylum seekers on the islands… and to immediately transfer asylum seekers to the mainland and meet their protection needs,” the groups said.

Asylum seekers are not allowed to head for the Greek mainland until their asylum applications are processed.

The groups that called on Tsipras to take action include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Rescue Committee and Oxfam.

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