29 October 2015

A ‘hotspot’ registration centre for people newly arriving on the Greek island of Lesvos, jointly operated by Greek authorities and European Union agencies, was opened two weeks ago in Moria (16 October). The ‘hotspot’ system is part of the EU’s action to assist frontline states who are facing disproportionate migratory pressures, and aims to swiftly identify people in need of international protection for relocation to other EU Member States. The launch of this was hailed by European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, as a signifier that ‘the mechanism established begins to gradually deliver results’.

However, a recent rise in the number of people arriving on Lesvos has reportedly left many without shelter or access to basic amenities. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), over 48,000 people crossed from Turkey to the Greek islands, despite worsening weather conditions between 17 and 21 October, with over 27,000 arriving in Lesvos in this five-day period. The IOM said that these large numbers had left many local authorities unprepared.   

NGOs on the ground were reporting that the increase in arrivals of people, coupled with bad weather, had created life threatening conditions, with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calling attention to the inadequate reception conditions. MSF also reported on having to treat people for hypothermia who had been waiting for registration for three days.

An IRIN article corroborated these reports, and said the introduction of ‘hotspots’ appeared to add to ‘confusion and increase the suffering of refugees’, noting that many people have to wait for registration without water, toilets or shelter. This included women with young children, pregnant women, and people with disabilities – all of whom were often not identified as persons with particular needs, according to Human Rights Watch.

In light of the high number of people arriving, the European Commission awarded €5.9 million of emergency assistance to support Greece in implementing the hotspot concept, with the additional funding to cover the costs for the transportation by ferry of at least 60,000 persons in needs of international protection from the Eastern Aegean islands to mainland Greece.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 30 October 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.