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Greece: chaos and squalid conditions for refugees and migrants on island of Lesbos

Child at makeshift outdoor camp in Molyvos harbour in Lesbos © Michael S Honegger
Dirty, overcrowded detention centre, people crowded onto a car park and many left to walk in sweltering heat 
33,000 people have arrived on Lesbos since start of this month alone
Amnesty representative currently on the Macedonia-Greece border
Severe shortages in facilities and staffing are creating dreadful conditions for the hundreds of refugees and migrants arriving every day on the Greek island of Lesbos, Amnesty International said after one of its research teams returned from the island. 
Instead local volunteers, NGO activists, the UN Refugee Agency and tourists have been stepping into the breach to assist the mainly Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians who have been arriving at the island and who make up 90% of those arriving, according to the UN.
Early this morning, a boat carrying some 15 people capsized near Skala Mystegnon on Lesbos. According to unconfirmed reports, following a search-and-rescue operation eight people have been rescued, two have drowned and the coastguard is still looking for five more.
During its time in Lesbos, Amnesty observed very poor, unsanitary conditions and overcrowding at the Moria immigration detention centre, including overflown toilets, lack of sheets and blankets, filthy and old mattresses and broken beds. Local police said they lack the funds to improve conditions. A refugee from Afghanistan told Amnesty International: 
“Words cannot describe [the conditions] … it smells … there is no soap, no clothes and everything is broken. … There is nothing for the small children, not even milk … [the police] shout a lot ... Yesterday morning they cut the electricity and until lunch time we had no electricity and it was smelling a lot in our rooms [so we slept outside]…”. 
People waiting outside the overcrowded centre for space to free up have been staying in tents, underneath nets from olive groves, or enduring 35-degree heat with no shelter at all. 
Meanwhile, Syrian refugees arriving on Lesbos are being sent to the separate Kara Tepe camp, where they wait one to two days for documents that allow them to travel onwards to Athens. Kara Tepe is an informal, unmanaged camp set up by the local mayor on a car park. Intended for 500 people, it is very overcrowded with more than 1,500 people there at a time. There are not enough tents, toilets or showers. Food is distributed by police and NGOs, with little coordination from the Greek authorities. It is being left to the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières to clear rubbish and clean and maintain the toilets and showers. 
With only four buses available to transport the hundreds of people coming ashore every day, most are having to walk up to 40 miles from the island’s northern shores to the reception centre in the capital, Mytilene. Amnesty witnessed more than 100 mainly Syrian and Afghan refugees, including families with small children and elderly people, walk to the point of collapse in temperatures above 35 degrees. In the absence of help from the authorities, locals, tourists and activists gave them water and food. 
Syrian refugees told Amnesty how arduous the journey was for families and the elderly: 
“There are women with babies and there is no bus … We are young and we will make it but what about them?” 
Once they arrive in the island’s capital Mytilene, people wait to be registered by the coastguard. Amnesty witnessed queues of around 200 people waiting in sweltering heat. There are neither interpreters to help the coastguard process arrivals, nor enough volunteer doctors to examine anyone beyond the most urgent cases. Members of the Greek Coastguard told Amnesty they have only ten staff to register the hundreds of refugees arriving daily, instead relying on support from NGOs who provide information and medical assistance. 
Amnesty International’s Europe Deputy Director Gauri van Gulik said:
“The arduous odyssey faced by people fleeing conflict does not end on Greece’s shores.  
“Forced to walk long distances in searing heat and stay in squalid camps or out in the open, refugees and asylum-seekers see little alternative but to continue their journey, contributing to the disaster we’ve seen on the Macedonian border in recent days.
“Europe needs to relieve pressure off Greece in the longer term by providing more safe and legal routes into Europe for those who need protection. As long as it fails to do so, Europe is directly responsible for what is unfolding on Lesbos and other frontline points of the refugee crisis.
“The world is seeing the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. What Europe’s borders need is not fences but safe entry points for refugees, and facilities to receive them with dignity.”

Numbers seven times higher than last year

Lesbos is currently seeing the highest number of arrivals anywhere in Greece - 33,000 since 1 August. Hundreds more are arriving every day - 1,450 on the night of 10-11 August alone. While Kos, Chios and other Greek islands in the Aegean have also received refugees and migrants crossing over via Turkey, Lesbos has received the highest number: more than 93,000 already in 2015, seven times the 12,187 arrivals during all of 2014. More than 160,000 migrants and refugees have entered Greece as a whole so far this year, compared to 45,412 in 2014. 
Amnesty is calling on Greek authorities, with urgent EU financial and logistical support, to set up an emergency response to manage the crisis on Lesbos and other Greek islands. The authorities need to urgently open the new First Reception Centre in Moria and to provide: 
  • More staff in needs-assessment reception units as well as more police, coastguards and interpreters to help deal with new arrivals
  • More buses to transport people to Mytilene, the Moria detention centre and Kara Tepe camp
  • Better conditions at the informal camps and at the port, with basic services such as health care, shelter, water and more toilets and showers
  • Effectively and quickly use EU funds to improve reception conditions 
  • Official management for informal camps that have been set up to deal with the influx of people
  • New reception centres in the north of Lesbos where most refugees and migrants are arriving

Greece, Macedonia and Serbia

The crisis in Greece is also increasing pressure in Macedonia and Serbia, as thousands of people have left Greece to pass through the western Balkans to re-enter the European Union in Hungary. Last week Macedonia declared a state of emergency along the Greek border with thousands of mainly Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi nationals trapped at the border. 
Amnesty Greece’s Director Giorgos Kosmopoulous is currently on Macedonia’s southern border with Greece. To arrange an interview with him, please contact Amnesty’s press team.

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