Hundreds of Palestinian refugees have been stranded in underequipped refugee camps in Greece and facing a deteriorating humanitarian condition.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, urged Greece to intensify efforts to address alarming overcrowding and precarious conditions for asylum seekers and migrants staying on the five Greek Aegean islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos, and Leros.
UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said at a regular UN briefing that UNHCR has been appealing to the Greek government to use emergency measures to expedite its plans to transfer a greater number of asylum-seekers to appropriate accommodation on the mainland.
“More than 36,000 asylum seekers are now staying in reception centers across five islands which were originally designed for 5,400 people”, he said. “The East Aegean islands have taken on a vastly disproportionate burden and responsibility. It is critical that other regions in Greece step up their solidarity to help alleviate pressures by receiving transferred asylum seekers and opening up reception places.”
UNHCR said that continued European resources, capacity and solidarity are also needed to boost Greece’s response.
On Samos 6,782 people are staying in a centre designed for 660 while others are in makeshift shelters pitched on surrounding fields on a steep slope. Moria on Lesvos is hosting 18,342 inside a facility for 2,200 and others are staying in adjacent olive groves, it said.
Reception centers on Chios, Kos, and Leros are also overcrowded. The majority of asylum-seekers and migrants are families. A third of the population are children, most below the age of twelve, it added.
Thousands of women, men, and children who currently live in small tents are exposed to cold and rain with little or no access to heating, electricity or hot water. Hygiene and sanitation conditions are unsafe. Health problems are on the rise. Despite the dedication of medical professionals and volunteers, many cannot see a doctor as there are simply too few medical staff at the reception centers and local hospitals.
Tensions were high on Lesvos earlier this week, where police faced off with asylum-seekers during their recent protest. Dire conditions and the long wait to complete asylum procedures have made asylum seekers afraid and anxious. In recent weeks local communities have also protested and demanded urgent action to alleviate the pressure of the islands.
The trust of local communities must be regained through decisive and coordinated government action strongly supported by the European Union, said UNHCR, adding that longer-term solutions and improvement of conditions on the islands are necessary but will only be possible once the overcrowded centers are decongested.
UNHCR also appealed to European States to open relocation places for unaccompanied children and other vulnerable people and to accelerate transfers for children eligible to join family members.
Nearly 2,000 children without parents or relatives in Greece are at risk at island reception centers. Over 5,300 unaccompanied children are now in Greece and only less than a quarter are in shelters adequate for their age.
Greece’s asylum system is overloaded with a backlog of nearly 90,000 cases. Government efforts to overhaul and speed up asylum procedures must maintain standards and safeguards, said UNHCR.
The majority of asylum seekers in Greece have refugee profiles and are likely to be in need of international protection.
Hundreds of Palestinian refugees have been stranded in underequipped refugee camps in Greece and facing a deteriorating humanitarian condition after most European states opted for a closed-door immigration policy.
Palestinian refugees in Greece said thy have been subjected to medical neglect and poor hygiene along with the lack of relief assistance.
An agreement between Turkey and Greece to tighten grip on Palestinian refugees from Syria trying to creep into the Greek territories via the Turkish borders has made the situation far worse.