The closure of the PIKPA camp on Lesvos hosting around 100 particularly vulnerable people has been postponed and The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has requested information from the Greek government in a case involving potential evacuation. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and NGOs are raising concern over critical conditions in the new tented emergency camp near Kara Tepe. COVID-19 cases were registered on Chios and on the mainland. In an incident that nearly turned deadly, 59 people were reportedly placed in two life rafts off Lesvos and left to drift for hours by the Greek coastguard. In a historic decision the Appeals Court in Athens ruled on 22 October that 38 Golden Dawn members including the leadership and former MPs will be send straight to jail.

The announced closures of Kara Tepe and PIKPA camps hosting vulnerable people on Lesvos have been met with outrage from civil society. In the case of the self-organised PIKPA camp, the Ministry of Labour postponed the eviction which was welcomed by Lesvos Solidarity stating: “The struggle is not over but today we are celebrating this small victory! Solidarity will win!!”. In a case involving a vulnerable mother and her new-born child, ECRE member Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) has requested interim measures from ECHR alleging violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the event of their removal from PIKPA camp and its closure. ECHR requested by 22 October clarifications from Greek authorities whether a formal decision to remove the applicants and close the accommodation facility PIKPA at Lesvos has been made, whether the applicants can contest such a decision before domestic courts, when the announced removal is planned to take place, and whether an alternative solution has been provided for the applicants.

UNHCR stated recently on the situation in the new tented emergency camp near Kara Tepe hosting close to 8,000 people from the destroyed Moria Camp: “There are critical gaps in drainage, water, sanitation, hygiene and health services that need to be addressed without any delay”. The UN Agency notes that heavy rain and coming winter is exacerbating the hardship for the camp residents. According to Refugee Support Aegean 1,100 family tents with a capacity of 6-8 people lack beds forcing people to sleep on the ground on plastic sheets or blankets and points out that residents lack protection against COVID-19 infection with social distancing being impossible in the camp. In a statement from 21 October, Oxfam International emphasised: “Food is only provided once or twice per day, and according to residents, there is not enough, and it is of bad quality. Due to the lack of running water, many people wash themselves in the sea – this is particularly risky for children who could drown or get infected by wastewater from the camp. Due to the lack of toilets and showers as well as insufficient lighting in the new camp, women are exposed to increased risks of sexual and gender-based violence”.

Astraparis reports that given the absence of funding from the Ministry of Migration and Asylum there is a lack of COVID-19 testing of residents and staff in the Vial camp on the island of Chios.On 13 and 14 October two pregnant women have been tested positive at a local hospital, while four people have been quarantined by staff and more are likely to follow. On the mainland 12 men and nine women of foreign descent tested positive for COVID-19 during random testing by the National Organization of Public Health. The tests were conducted at Victoria Square in Athens where refugees and asylum seekers are forced to sleep rough under harsh conditions.

Several sources have reported on 59 people who were placed in two life rafts off Lesvos by the Greek coastguard on 18 October and left to drift for hours before they were located and picked up by the Turkish coastguard outside Denizköy, Dikili. According to the Aegean Boat Report the rafts were so overloaded that people were forced to take turns staying in the sea to prevent them from sinking and during the rescue operation the rafts went under leaving many people in the sea. The NGO hotline Alarmphone reports on a boat carrying 180 people in distress on 20 October south of Crete. After alerting the Greek coastguard that confirmed that a rescue operation was underway masked men speaking Greek entered the vessel and Alarmphone has since been unable to reestablish contact.

Following a landmark ruling declaring the far-right Golden Dawn party a criminal organisation on 7 October Athens Court of Appeal on 22 October refused the suspension of sentences for 38 Golden Dawn members until their cases are examined in a higher instance. The group including Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos, former MPs Ilias Kasidiaris, Ioannis Lagos (acting MEP), Christos Papps, Ilias Panagiotaros, Giorgos Germenis and Artemis Mattheopoulos as well as another 6 former MPs straight to jail establishing and running or being members of the criminal organisation. In its ruling described as “more severe than expected” by local media the court refused suspension of sentences for convictions over ten years as well as between five and seven years. An additional 12 convicts among them five former MPs had their sentences for participation in a criminal organisation suspended.

104 refugees including 29 unaccompanied children, were relocated from Greece to Germany on 22 October.

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 Photo: ECRE

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