Wednesday, January 09, 2019

The Hardships in the Refugee Camps

The EU has been strongly criticised over conditions in Greece’s largest refugee camp, where Oxfam reported women are wearing nappies at night for fear of leaving their tents to go to the toilet.

The British-based NGO described the increasingly dangerous state of the EU-sponsored Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, where a 24-year-old man from Cameroon was found dead in the early hours of Tuesday as temperatures fell below freezing. For some, open fires are reportedly the only way to keep warm in winter. The burning of plastic bags and bottles is said to create a “dangerous, smoky, acrid atmosphere”. Three asylum seekers died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the camp in January 2017 while trying to stay warm with makeshift stoves.
15,000 men, women and children are stranded in Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros, the islands closest to Turkey.
The report from Oxfam titled Vulnerable and Abandoned highlighted the failure of authorities at the Moria camp, where nearly 5,000 people live, to identify vulnerable refugees who are eligible for help.
Oxfam warned “vulnerable people including survivors of torture and sexual violence are being housed in unsafe areas … Pregnant women and mothers with newborns are left sleeping in tents, and unaccompanied children, wrongly registered as adults, have been placed in detention.”
One woman, 36, from Cameroon, told Oxfam that people were randomly attacked at the camp. “Moria is a dangerous place for women,” she said. “Fights can start at any moment. At any moment you can expect a stone to your head, even if you’re just walking to the toilet or to your tent … I live in the closed section for women who are alone, but after 11pm the door is open, and anyone can come in because there is no security guard at night. Safety is a big issue for us.”

Renata Rendón, Oxfam’s head of mission in Greece, said: “It is irresponsible and reckless to fail to recognise the most vulnerable people and respond to their needs.
“Our partners have met mothers with newborn babies sleeping in tents, and teenagers wrongly registered as adults being locked up. Surely identifying and providing for the needs of such people is the most basic duty of the Greek government and its European partners.” Rendón added: “European leaders have to face the fact that their current policy is perpetuating an inhumane reception system and putting refugees at risk. Rather than continuing to focus all their efforts on returning refugees to Turkey under the deal struck in 2016, EU member states should support Greece to improve conditions in the island camps and move people off the overcrowded islands and on to the mainland.”

Medical and psychosocial screenings at Moria have been described as cursory at best due to a “severe shortage” of staff. Oxfam reported that for “many months”, there was just one doctor employed by the Greek government at the camp to assess the health conditions of as many as 2,000 new arrivals in one month, before the medic eventually quit. Even refugees identified as vulnerable and theoretically allowed to leave the islands are being trapped due to a lack of accommodation on the mainland, it is claimed. According to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, more than 4,000 people eligible for transfer were stuck in Lesbos and Samos in November. The slow asylum application process is also said to be condemning families to years in the camps, where people live in tents without hot water and electricity during winter.
“Due to a lack of staff, many people who arrive now in Lesbos have their first asylum interview scheduled for 2020,” Oxfam reported.
Stella Nanou, a spokesperson for the UNHCR explained, “There are people, vulnerable people, families and children, living in totally unsuitable conditions in the biting cold. We’re talking about human beings. The situation is very bad, very grave.”

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