Containment policy turning Lesvos into ‘open-air prison,’ HRW warns


The already grim conditions in the overcrowded Moria camp for migrants and refugees on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos may deteriorate into a full-blown humanitarian disaster as winter approaches unless urgent action is taken, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned on Wednesday.

“Thousands of people seeking protection in Europe are deprived of their most basic rights to humane and dignified treatment on Lesvos,” said Todor Gardos, Europe researcher at the US-based watchdog.

“The EU-backed containment policy is aggravating long-lasting suffering of asylum seekers, turning Lesvos into an open-air prison,” he said.

Under a containment policy enacted since the 2016 EU-Turkey deal, Greek authorities confine asylum seekers on the Aegean islands, including Lesvos, until their asylum claims are adjudicated, a process that can take months or even years.

Vulnerable asylum seekers may be transferred to the mainland, but delays in the vulnerability assessment procedure and the lack of accommodation on the mainland mean thousands of eligible individuals and families remain trapped on the island.

“While Greek authorities are directly responsible for the containment policy and the deplorable conditions on the islands, the EU bears collective responsibility for its failure to demonstrate solidarity with Greece and to move asylum seekers out of Greece for processing elsewhere,” HRW said, adding that conditions on Lesvos are in violation of EU and Greek laws.

The organization called on Greece to end the containment policy on the islands and ensure sufficient and adequate accommodation and services on the mainland.

“Asylum seekers, particularly those with recognized vulnerabilities, should be relocated as a matter of urgency,” it said.