Accommodation centres for vulnerable people are being closed while the situation continues to deteriorate in Greek camps including in the new tented camp on Lesvos, the Vathy camp on Samos, and Malakasa north of Athens. 930 recognized refugees departed for Athens from Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros islands on 28 September.

160 NGOs are urging Greek authorities to revoke the decision to close the municipality run reception centre in Kara Tepe by 31 December, and the self-managed PIKPA camp by 31 October both hosting vulnerable people on Lesvos, stating: “The authorities should not only revoke the decision to shut down these facilities, but in this time of great need, they should further strengthen and protect all dignified alternative solutions for asylum seekers’ housing and protection”.

Conditions are devastating in the new government run tented camp near Kara Tepe hosting more than 9,000 people who were left homeless by the fire in Moria camp. The camp has been described as worse than Moria by its residents, who told Deutsche Welle:The environment of the camp is so dirty. Coronavirus is here,” adding: “We must be clean, but we don’t even have water to wash with, how can we avoid this sickness?”. More than 240 residents have tested positive for COVID-19.

In Vathy camp in Samos the situation is critical, too. The camp is designed to host 650 people, but according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) 4,500 people currently live there among garbage, rats and scorpions. There are more than 1,000 children and many of the residents belong to high risk groups regarding COVID-19. So far, there have been more than 60 positive cases in the camp.

Protests over the lack of protective measures followed the death of a resident from the Malakasa camp north of Athens who was hospitalised after being infected with COVID-19 virus. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) the structure, with a capacity of 1,589 operates with an overcrowding of 132.4%.

In its 2020 Rule of Law Report Country Chapter on Greece the European Commission refers critique from stakeholders: “that the regulations on the operation of NGOs include too stringent and disproportionate requirements for registration and certification”. The Commission adds that: “a rise in attacks on NGOs working with refugees and migrants in Greece has been reported, and concerns have been expressed that the ‘civic space’ for civil society to operate in Greece has narrowed since 2019”. On 1 October, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe issued its decision in the context of its supervision of the execution of the M.S.S. and Rahimi judgments against Greece noting persisting problems in the asylum procedure, which is still characterised by delays and gaps in legal aid provision. It also expressed uncertainty over the country´s approach to the accommodation of asylum seekers and encouraged the Greek authorities to improve the reception and protection of unaccompanied minors, especially by ending the practice of protective custody. In a press release responding to an announced criminal investigation by Greek authorities of 33 people representing four different NGOs for allegedly joining a criminal organization, espionage, violation of state secrets, as well as facilitation of entry, the NGO hotline Alarmphone states: “push-backs, heavy forms of violence including beatings, robbery and shootings, non-assistance, forcing refugees on life-rafts and leaving them drifting in the middle of the sea. These crimes are carried out by bodies obviously belonging to the Greek state”.

Alarmphone called for the assistance of 120 people including small children and babies in distress and with no food and water on an island in the middle of Evros river on the morning of 29 September. The group was later picked up by Turkish soldiers and returned to Turkey.

On 28 September 930 recognized refugees departed for Athens from Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos & Leros islands. UNHCR Greece states that the agency is: “supporting efforts of Greek authorities to decongest islands’ facilities, while it’s crucial to link these people with local integration and relocation opportunities”.

In a press release the UN Agencies IOM, UNHCR and UNICEF wrote they “welcomed the relocation of 139 asylum seekers to Germany, which has brought the total number of people relocated from Greece to other European Union (EU) Member States through a European Commission-funded programme this year to over 1,000”. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition to bring 500 unaccompanied children to the Netherlands from the Greek refugee camps. The organisations behind the petition including ECRE member Dutch Council for Refugees placed 500 empty chairs in the square in front of the Parliament symbolising the children who are not yet welcomed by Dutch politicians.

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Photo: ECRE