A suicide attempt by a pregnant woman and children with thoughts of suicide illustrates the desperation in the Moria 2.0 camp in Kara Tepe. The closure of the ‘Filoxenia’ program providing temporary accommodation to asylum seekers means the eviction of up to almost 7,000 people. Continuing violent pushbacks by Greek authorities in the first months of 2021 have been met with calls on the European Commission to react and legal action before the European Court of Human Rights.

A 26-year old Afghan woman granted refugee status in Greece lit herself on fire when learning that she could not be relocated from the so-called Moria 2.0 camp on Lesvos to Germany alongside family members as she was set to give birth within a week. Despite serious injuries and distress the young woman was interviewed by a prosecutor for more than two hours in her hospital bed and is facing possible arson charges. A new report by the Civil Fleet describes how children in the Moria 2.0 camp, hosting 6,972 people of which 36% are children, are traumatized and depressed to the point where they have stopped talking and playing, are self-harming and have thoughts of suicide. In 2020 Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) running a health clinic on Lesvos recorded 50 cases of suicidal thoughts and attempts among children on the island, the youngest of whom was an eight-year-old girl who tried to hang herself. Local residents are increasingly mobilising against the government plans to establish permanent camps on Lesvos. On the mainland an 8-year-old boy died in a fire in the Thiva camp north of Athens hosting 800 asylum seekers and protests by residents have continued in the Ritsona camp, one hour from the capitals city centre hosting 600 people.

The Filoxenia program providing temporary accommodation to vulnerable asylum seekers at 79 state-leased hotels in cooperation with International Organization for Migration (IOM) is closed, leaving 6,898 people including families with children to be evicted. Evictions are planned and have already been carried out across the country with people forced to sleep rough in Thessaloniki, Corinthos and Athens where people are again gathering in Victoria Square facing destitution, lack of basic supplies and police harassment.

According to Mare Liberum monitoring human rights in the Aegean Sea, Greek authorities carried out ten pushbacks in January involving 170 people illegally abandoned at sea. In February, the number of pushbacks doubled and the number of people involved even tripled with 20 cases in which 524 people were abandoned at sea. In a letter to Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, MEPs from the European United Left–Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL), Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), and Greens-European Free Alliance (Greens–EFA) have urged a response to the pushback of 13 Afghans including five children. The group was violently abducted by police from a reception centre after being told they would be tested for COVID-19 and pushed to sea on an inflatable dinghy from which the Turkish coast guard later rescued them. Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) has lodged a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of an unaccompanied child who was apprehended in the Vathy Reception and Identification Centre on Samos and pushed to sea along with another child in a life-threatening operation by Greek authorities. Greece is set to finalise a new 27 kilometer fence at the Evros border in April, and is upscaling its migration monitoring with cameras and radars able to see 15 kilometers into Turkish territory. The latter project has a budget of 14.9 million euros and is funded by the European Commission’s Directorate General Migration and Home Affairs. In a follow-up request for the return to Turkey of 1,450 migrants living in hotspots on the Aegean Islands, Greece has filed a request with Frontex and the European Commission for the immediate return of 519 migrants to their countries of origin.

The humanitarian movement Choose Love has released a report based on input from 70 civil society organisations on the crackdown on NGOs by the Greek government. According to Choose Love, the report: “demonstrates how current legislation on NGO registration in Greece will hinder civil society organisations’ ability to provide services and monitor the treatment of refugees and displaced,” further underlining: “In just over a year, legislation and requirements for registration have dramatically expanded in scope four times. The one common factor has been that registration is now obligatory in Greece for all organisations involved with migration. Survey responses indicate that these constant changes in legislation and registration procedures have led to widespread confusion, misunderstanding and legal uncertainty”. The Expert Council on NGO Law at the Council of Europe is one of many legal bodies that have criticised the Greek rules.

People from the Greek islands have arrived to several European member states over the last weeks for relocation. On 24 and 25 February Germany received 122 people including 69 children and 155 people including 85 children respectively. On 3 March Norway received 35 vulnerable asylum-seekers including 21 children from Greece. Additionally, Belgium in December 2020 accepted 11 youth between the ages of 12 and 18 years old.

According to UNHCR, 57 people arrived on the Aegean islands between 22-28 February, representing an increase from 41 arrivals the week before but a decrease from 2020 with 572 arrivals during the same period. Between January and June 2020, a total of 3,340 children arrived in Greece by land and sea, including 391 unaccompanied or separated children.

For further information:

Photo: ECRE

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.