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Greece: New report on squalid conditions for 46,000 refugees trapped in Greece

With international attention focussed on the implementation of the recently agreed EU-Turkey deal, the plight of more than 46,000 refugees and migrants stuck in squalid conditions across mainland Greece is in danger of being forgotten, Amnesty International warned in a report released today (18 April).

The report, Trapped in Greece: an avoidable refugee crisis, examines the situation of refugees and migrants – the majority women and children – stuck in the country following the complete closure of the Macedonian border on 7 March.

Conditions are inadequate in many of the 31 temporary accommodation sites, set up by the Greek authorities with significant EU assistance. They are severely overcrowded, with a complete lack of privacy, no heating, and not enough toilets.

Meanwhile, of the 66,400 asylum-seekers pledged to be relocated from Greece in September 2015, only 615 had been transferred to other EU member states, according to information published by the European Commission on Tuesday (12 April). The UK is not participating in the relocation scheme, the government having refused from the beginning to share any responsibility for refugees who have arrived in Europe. Last year, the UK received 38,878 asylum claims, including dependants, and resettled a further 1,864 refugees - 1,194 of whom were Syrian. Eight EU countries received significantly higher numbers of asylum claims, including Hungary, France and Sweden.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, said:

“The decision to close the Western Balkans route has left more than 46,000 refugees and migrants in appalling conditions and in a state of constant fear and uncertainty.

“EU countries have only exacerbated this crisis by failing to act decisively to help relocate tens of thousands of asylum-seekers, the majority of whom are women and children, trapped in Greece. If EU leaders do not act urgently to live up to their relocation promises and improve conditions for stranded refugees and migrants, they will face a humanitarian calamity of their own making.”

A Syrian woman who was nine-months pregnant at a makeshift camp in Idomeni on the Macedonian border told Amnesty:

“The conditions here are not good and we are sleeping on the ground; our blankets are soaked with water. There are no bathrooms. This is why people are getting sick.”

An Afghan asylum-seeker staying at the Elliniko temporary accommodation centre, at an unused airport outside Athens, said:

“It’s a total mess – there is nothing here… Everybody is sleeping on the floor in the old terminal hall. We don’t even have basic things. There is a toilet but it is so dirty. I don’t sleep [in the camp], it’s too smelly.”

In another camp in Athens – an informal set up in Piraeus port – there are between 3,000 and 5,000 people staying with only a few basic services provided by volunteers, a few humanitarian organisations and the port authorities.

Many of the refugees and migrants interviewed during two Amnesty research trips, between 8 February and 13 March, were hoping to continue their journeys onwards to Western Europe to reunite with family members. The majority had little information about their options since the closure of the Macedonian border.

“Why don’t they let us go? They want us to die here?” asked a 70-year-old couple from Aleppo, who were camping in Idomeni. “It’s cold and we are [living] on top of each other.”

In addition to lacking information on their rights in Greece, the particular needs of vulnerable refugees and migrants are not being met. Women in some of the accommodation centres told Amnesty researchers they felt unsafe and at risk of exploitation by men. Amnesty also talked to unaccompanied children detained in police stations for up to 15 days until they could be transferred to a shelter for children.

Amnesty is calling on Greece to make urgent improvements to the country’s asylum system and to ensure access to effective protection for everyone trapped in the country. As a priority, it must set up a mechanism for the systematic provision of information and the identification of individuals with specific needs.

While EU member states should continue to support Greece so that it can adequately receive asylum-seekers, they must also urgently accept asylum-seekers to their countries from Greece. This must include swiftly relocating large numbers of asylum-seekers through the existing EU emergency relocation scheme, and ensuring effect is given to EU rules, into which the UK has opted, that provide for many of those with family in another EU country to be reunited with their relatives.

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