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Winter Arrives for Asylum-Seekers Stuck in Greece’s ‘Beyond Deplorable’ Refugee Camps

More than 13,500 asylum seekers are trapped on the Greek islands as winter sets in, with families living in “inhumane” conditions. 

Human rights groups are calling for the emergency transfer of these people to the Greek mainland, for accommodation and access to a fair and efficient asylum procedures. 

One refugee camp, Moria, on the Greek island of Lesbos, has been described as a “national disgrace” by the island’s mayor, Spyros Galinos. 

Five people died last year in the “miserably cold camp”, including a child, and campaigners are desperate to prevent further deaths this year. 

Take action: Refugee? Migrant? Human Being. Show Your Support for All People — No Matter Where They Were Born

The Greek government committed in early December to moving 5,000 of the most vulnerable asylum seekers from the islands to the mainland, in a move that Human Rights Watch (HRW) called “beneficial.” 

Some 3,000 people have been moved, including pregnant women and unaccompanied minors, but more than 1,000 people have arrived to the islands in the same period, according to HRW. 

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“It’s an important start but more is needed, including support from other EU governments, to make sure that no one has to spend the winter in a freezing tent,” said Eva Cosse, Greece researcher at HRW. 

Most of those arriving to the islands are fleeing what were ISIS-controlled strongholds in Syria and Iraq, according to the Guardian

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It was announced this week that the population of Moria has fallen below 6,000 people, for the first time in more than a year. 

But, in a camp that was originally built as a temporary measure to home 2,000 people, it is still dramatically over capacity. 

Most of those families in the camp are living in tents, with wooden pallets to lift the tents above the mud for the winter. 

According to the Guardian, which visited the camp, people living there are reduced to burning plastic bottles to keep warm, for lack of firewood. 

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“I’ve run out of ways of describing conditions that are beyond deplorable,” said Galinos. “I recently compared what they are doing here to Guantanamo but of course I’ve never been to Guantanamo. Perhaps concentration camp would be better.” 

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“This is an emergency situation that requires emergency solutions,” he added. “Since the summer we have been saying: ‘Do something in Moria.’ People are going to die if something isn’t done, if the infrastructure isn’t improved.” 

There are similar camps on the other islands of Chios, Samos, Leros, and Kos, with HRW reporting that there are some 11,000 people living in facilities with a total capacity of just 5,576. 

The Greek government is expected to introduce a bill in parliament in the coming days, with the aim of accelerating the asylum process and expediting returns to Turkey under the EU-Turkey deal. 

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“While length of asylum procedure is one factor contributing to people’s distress on the islands, reducing the length of asylum procedures at the expense of the quality of the process would put asylum seekers at risk of being denied the protection they need,” said Human Rights Watch. 

“Such an approach is the wrong way to alleviate overcrowding or address the systematic issues linked to the containment policy and EU-Turkey deal that have created this inhuman situation on the islands,” it added. 

The EU and Turkey reached an agreement last year, to reduce the numbers of people trying to make the Mediterranean crossing to Europe.

Read more: For 4th Straight Year, 3,000 Migrants Have Drowned in the Mediterranean Sea

The agreement, to end the flow of irregular migration from Turkey to the EU, stated that all those arriving would be returned to Turkey, which would be paid €6 billion to assist the refugee community hosted in the country. 

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