Wednesday, December 2

Refugees on Lesbos face winter in makeshift camp after September fires | Human rights

Thousands of people relocated to a tent camp after fires destroyed Europe’s largest refugee facility on the Greek island of Lesbos will have to endure the winter in the rudimentary settlement.

As Greece faced criticism from the continent’s main human rights watchdog, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, for the dire conditions in several of its refugee detention centers, officials admitted that asylum seekers they would have to languish in the settlement well into the new year.

“It is problematic,” said Giorgos Koumoutsakos, Athens’ alternate minister for migration and asylum policy. “A new camp needs to be built from scratch and an agreement on its location has not yet been reached. It is impossible to have a new state-of-the-art facility ready before next summer. “

Almost 8,000 people live in the camp, established as part of an emergency response to the fires that ravaged the infamous and overcrowded Moria reception center in September. The new camp, on a former firing range just meters from the sea, was meant to be temporary. The lack of infrastructure has meant that the extensive facility is totally dependent on the water tanks.

The Greek government recently signed a € 121 million agreement with the EU to establish new reception and identification centers in Samos, Kos and Leros. This week, it promised to complete construction of improved facilities on all of its front-line Aegean islands by fall 2021.

In what would be a review of containment policies that have trapped thousands of people in outposts, the government also promised that no asylum seekers would stay on any island for more than six months.

About 19,000 people live in overcrowded camps in Greece, having tried to reach Europe from the shores of Turkey. “Our asylum system is now working very quickly,” Koumoutsakos said. “About 80,000 applications have been processed in the last nine months.”

But a report released by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture on Thursday called out Greek authorities for their handling of the refugees. It found that, five years after nearly a million Syrians fleeing the civil war traversed Lesbos alone, Greece’s response was still far from acceptable, citing allegations of ill-treatment by the police, the coast guard and the military. . In some cases, the miserable conditions of detention amounted to “an affront to human dignity”.

Refugees dig trenches to keep water out of their tents in the Lesbos temporary camp.
Refugees dig trenches to keep water out of their tents in the Lesbos temporary camp. Photograph: Panagiotis Balaskas / AP

“Of course, the CTP recognizes the immense difficulties Greece faces in managing massive migratory flows at the EU’s external borders,” said Mark Kelly, first vice-chair of the committee, who led the delegation that visited Greece in March. “However, under no circumstances should dealing with these pressures be allowed to degenerate into keeping men, women and children in conditions that could be considered inhuman and degrading.”

The report, which called for an end to the illegal rejections after “consistent and credible allegations” of the forcible expulsion of refugees to Turkey, said delegates had seen 93 people crammed into two police cells in the port of Samos. The detainees included 20 babies, while three of the 15 women were pregnant. None of the cells were equipped with heating, beds or mattresses. One, measuring 42 square meters, had capacity for 43 people, while a second, measuring just over 32 square meters, had capacity for 50 people.

“The toilets in the cell without partitions were blocked and emitted a foul stench to the rest of the cell… the migrants [we] they had not had access to a shower for more than two weeks and were not given soap to wash their hands. Those arriving had not been informed of their rights, as was also the case in Evros, the land border region that the committee visited.

Kelly said authorities were taking a “punitive approach.” “Apparently the belief remains that harsh conditions will deter immigrants from reaching Greece, regardless of the factors that push people to risk their lives to enter the country,” he said.

The anti-torture committee questioned the role and involvement of the EU border agency, Frontex, in pushback operations which, in some cases, had the effect of separating children from forcibly expelled parents through from the land border with Turkey.

Since Ankara’s threat to open the doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees earlier this year, Athens has taken unprecedented steps to strengthen its borders, with the backing of the EU.

The Greek government has issued a 25-page response challenging the report’s findings and its allegations of abuse. “Whenever there are accusations [of misconduct] they are always examined, ”Koumoutsakos said. “It is a constant challenge to protect our borders. Turkey has a group of 4 million refugees that it could choose to use again for geopolitical purposes. “

He called the border crisis “a great lesson for all of us,” and said: “There is no way that our competent authorities will not respect international laws and norms. We are the shield of Europe and they have congratulated us for the work we are doing ”.

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