UNHCR calls for urgent European support for Greece amid worsening conditions for refugees
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
Initial reception conditions for refugees arriving in Greece's North Aegean and Dodecanese islands are worsening, despite the considerable efforts of local authorities and civil society. Hundreds of refugees continue to arrive every day in inflatable dinghies and wooden boats, putting a tremendous strain on the island communities that receive them.
Since the beginning of this year, more than 55,000 refugees have arrived in Greece by sea from Turkey. The main islands receiving them are Lesvos (some 21,600 arrivals), Chios (9,400), Kos (8,900), Leros (3,900) and Samos (3,500), but people are arriving elsewhere too. More than 90 per cent are from countries experiencing war and conflict, principally Syria (over 60 per cent of arrivals this year), Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.
The number of arrivals is expected to increase further during the summer, when weather conditions make the sea crossing from the Turkish mainland less hazardous.
The police, coast guard and local authorities (regional and municipal) have allocated additional personnel and resources but the response continues to fall short of needs. Private citizens, local volunteers and NGOs have all been doing distribution of food, water, shoes and clothes to the refugees. UNHCR is particularly concerned that refugees with specific needs, such as unaccompanied children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with disabilities and victims of torture, may not be receiving appropriate care.
On Lesvos, where most of the arrivals are happening, hundreds of men, women and children landing on the island's northern coast are having to walk up to 70 kilometers to the island capital, Mytilini, to be identified and registered. Agalia, a small NGO headed by a local priest in the village of Kalloni in the island's mountainous interior, has been giving food, water, medicine and providing accommodation to refugees undertaking this walk. UNHCR has also distributed sleeping bags and hygiene kits to some of the most needy. Meanwhile, reports that local volunteers in Lesvos have been threatened with arrest by police for helping refugees on the move is a serious concern. UNHCR has raised this issue with the police and has requested the municipality of Lesvos to provide transport for vulnerable refugees who are walking over the mountains from the north of Lesvos to Mytilini.
The screening centre in the village of Moria is overcrowded and many refugees are camping outside. The State First Reception Service that has deployed a Mobile Unit on Lesvos since 2013, is providing medical and psycho-social services to refugees in Moria through the services of Doctors of the World (MdM). UNHCR is giving legal information with the help of qualified interpreters from Greek NGO MetAction. An alternative site has been opened at Kara Tepe but conditions there are extremely precarious and often there are tensions among the refugees.
On Chios, the screening centre in Mersinidi is still overcrowded, housing three times more people than its official maximum capacity of 98. In addition, some 400 people are staying in tents at a site next to the screening centre. The tents, set up by the local municipality, were meant to accommodate 100 people. Conditions both inside and outside the screening centre are inadequate. UNHCR, MdM, METAction and local volunteers are distributing relief items to the most needy refugees. UNHCR is providing legal information at both sites and assists the authorities in the identification of people with specific needs.
On Kos, Doctors without Borders (MSF) are providing medical assistance and trying to improve conditions at the abandoned Captain Elias Hotel, where many refugee families are staying because of a lack of suitable accommodation. MSF has improved the water supply and supplied chemical toilets. UNHCR, MSF and local volunteers have been delivering basic relief items. UNHCR provides legal information to refugees with the assistance of qualified interpreters and assists the police authorities in informing persons about the registration and asylum procedures and their rights and responsibilities.
On Leros, an unused hospital annex, known as Villa Artemis, has been allocated to local volunteers to accommodate refugee families who are under the responsibility of the Coast Guard. MSF and UNHCR have distributed relief items and UNHCR has been providing information to the refugees through a qualified interpreter.
On Samos, the screening centre is also overcrowded with up to 600 people staying there. Sanitation and living conditions are below minimum standards. The First Reception Service Mobile Unit provides medical and psycho-social support services through the NGO Medical Intervention (MedIn), while UNHCR provides legal information, assists the authorities in the identification of individuals with specific needs and distributes basic relief items, mainly to people with specific needs.
UNHCR is ready to continue working with the Greek authorities and civil society in order to address some of these challenges, but greater support from EU Member states and institutions is urgently needed to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
For more information on this topic, please contact:
- In Greece, Ketty Kehayioylou on mobile +30 694 0277 485
- In Greece, Stella Nanou on mobile +30 693 79 34 515
- In Rome, Carlotta Sami on mobile +39 335 679 4746
- In Rome, Federico Fossi on mobile +39 349 084 3461
- In Geneva, William Spindler on mobile +41 79 217 3011