Aid group: Refugees facing ‘appalling conditions’ in Greece
The international aid group Doctors Without Borders says refugees at camps in Greece are still living in mostly “appalling conditions” with poor access to health care and a lack of provisions to identify the most vulnerable.
In the report issued Thursday, the agency commonly known by its French name, Medecins sans Frontiers, argued that the European Union and Greece had “collectively failed to establish humane and dignified reception conditions.”
More than 60,000 refugees and migrants — many escaping wars in Syria and Iraq — have been stranded in Greece following European border closures this year. Most still live in tents at about 50 refugee camps.
Around 14,000 of them are confined to islands in the eastern Aegean Sea where they are being processed for potential deportation back to nearby Turkey.
At the garbage-strewn refugee camp of Ritsona, 85 kilometers (50 miles) north of Athens, children walk barefoot and families in tents used wooden pallets for flooring, to stay above the mud and try to stay warm.
“It’s very bad. How can I explain: I mean very bad,” Syrian refugee Yousef Hanash said. “Can you imagine living in a tent with six persons and if you have a newborn baby how the situation will be?”
Hanash said he came to Europe as a last resort, unable to keep his family safe after his cheese factory was destroyed in the war and he moved around Syria.
MSF says people at risk included pregnant women and people with mobility problems, while it described conditions facing mental health patients as “dire.”
“For vulnerable people, the lack
of appropriate accommodation and specialized care is directly contributing to their worsening health status and could well be life-threatening,” the group said.
“For the victims of violence or other forms of ill-treatment and people with psychiatric disorders, inadequate living conditions further undermine people’s efforts to re-establish a sense of normality and safety and to engage in a therapeutic process.”
The group urged the government to seek alternatives to the refugee camp system and improve a screening process to identify vulnerable migrants, while it said the European Union needed to provide emergency financial support to the state health system.
The government has repeatedly defended its record in dealing with the refugee crisis, noting that more than a million refugees and migrants traveled through Greece since the beginning of 2015, stretching state resources already under pressure from years of recession and financial crisis.
With winter approaching, the government is racing to replace tents with trailers at most camps and is planning to use more abandoned factories as shelter space.
Earlier this week, the U.N. refugee agency said it had launched a program to distribute winter clothes, sleeping bags and thermal blankets to about 38,000 camp dwellers on the Greek mainland. UNHCR worked with a number of charities to complete the distribution by the end of the month.
MSF is one of the most active agencies in Greece in dealing with the refugee crisis, with programs at more than a dozen sites and provides support at most others.