With the European Union and Greece pointing the finger at each other over the handling of more than 70,000 refugees, Doctors Without Borders again slammed what it said were inhumane detention centers and camps, including on islands near Turkey.
The agency, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said children and other vulnerable groups should be moved, which Greece’s government has been doing, taking them from the islands to mainland centers, but at a rate critics said is too slow.
Most are seeking asylum after the EU closed its borders to them and reneged on promises to help take an overload that’s built up during a nearly nine-year-long economic crisis in Greece, which has largely been left alone to deal with the problem.
The EU and Turkey in March, 2016 signed a swap deal designed to slow the flow of refugees and migrants who had gone to Turkey to escape war and strife in their homelands and were being sent by human traffickers to Greece, mostly the islands, in hopes of reaching more prosperous European countries before the borders were slammed shut.
Turkey has taken back only a relative handful and MSF said that about 12,000 men, women, and children are trapped “in unsafe and degrading conditions in five Greek island camps, where they have little access to basic health services and suffer widespread misery.”
Twenty activist and human rights groups, including MSF, have been sounding that same clarion call but been ignored by the EU and Greece, as have island officials and residents, including those on Samos, within sight of Turkey, where many parents have refused to send their children to school with refugee children, fearing health risks.
“Greece has become a dumping ground for the men, women, and children that the European Union has failed to protect,” said Emmanuel Goué, MSF Head of Mission in Greece, the group said in a statement.
“What was once touted as a ‘refugee emergency’ has given way to inexcusable levels of human suffering across the Greek islands and on mainland Greece. The EU and Greek authorities continue to rob vulnerable people of their dignity and health, seemingly in an effort to deter others from coming. This policy is cruel, inhumane, and cynical, and it needs to end,” he added.
The swap deal has seen the numbers of refugees and migrants dwindle, but still keep coming at a smaller rate and the group said that since 2016, more than 5,000 people have arrived in Greece up to the start of 2019.
Most are from from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Democratic Republic of Congo. More than half are women and children.
MSF said at the Vathy camp, on Samos, conditions have deteriorated drastically in recent months due to severe overcrowding, leading the group to send a medical team back to the island in February.
The camp currently hosts more than 4,112 people in a space meant for 648, with thousands “languishing in a filthy and unsafe area outside the official camp. Those outside the camp include at least 79 unaccompanied children, as well as pregnant women, elderly people, people with chronic health conditions such as psychosis, and survivors of torture and sexual violence,” MSF said.
“The EU and the Greek government are still failing to provide dignified and humane living conditions and proper medical care to those trapped on the Greek islands,” said Vasilis Stravaridis, General Director of MSF Greece. “In Vathy, more than half the camp’s population is living in summer tents or under plastic sheeting, surrounded by rubbish and human excrement.”
On the Greek mainland, refugees and migrants who arrived after the EU-Turkey deal live in camps or in temporary accommodations run by the United Nations or aid organizations, while others sleep on the streets or in other rough conditions, the group said.
MSF said it has sent teams of psychologists to care for people suffering from mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and psychosis, and to rehabilitate survivors of torture tactics.