The Telegraph — Refugee camps on Greece’s Aegean islands are “bursting at the seams”, a British aid organisation has warned.
Since the Balkan route from Greece to northern Europe was shut down in March after the arrival of a million migrants and refugees, around 57,000 of them have been left stranded in Greece.
They are living in limbo, accommodated in tents and buildings in former Olympic sites, abandoned military airfields and other locations around the country.
Living conditions are rough, food is often inadequate and thousands of children, many of them Syrians who fled the war, are missing out on their schooling.
Of the 57,000 stuck in Greece, around 10,300 are living in camps on a string of islands close to the coast of Turkey – where they arrived in recent months after paying smugglers to ferry them across the sea.
The facilities on the islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos are now “bursting at the seams” and dangerously overcrowded, according to Save the Children.
Among the 10,000 held on the islands in closed camps, around 3,800 are children. They face “demoralising and unsafe conditions,” according to the British charity.
Under a deal struck between the EU and Ankara, people who arrived on the islands after March 20 are meant to be sent back to Turkey, but so far less than 500 have been returned, and they were people who chose not to lodge asylum applications.
The others have to wait while the overwhelmed Greek authorities record all their details and make a formal ruling on their status – a monumental task given the number of people involved and the different languages they speak.
As the Greeks struggle to contain the situation, the number of refugees and migrants arriving from Turkey is picking up. The numbers are nowhere near as large as they once were – up to 4,000 arrived on the Aegean islands each day at the height of the crisis – but they are still putting the facilities under strain.
While 560 refugees arrived on the islands in the first two weeks of July, in the first two weeks of August that number jumped to nearly 1,400.
“We’re nearly back at square one. As the number of arrivals creeps up again, we’re starting to see scenes reminiscent of last summer. Except this time, most asylum seekers are unable to continue their journeys, and are trapped on the islands, in overcrowded facilities, and under the blazing sun,” said Katie Dimmer, Save the Children’s director of operations in Greece.
“Mothers with small babies are being forced to sleep on the ground in make-shift tents, children and breastfeeding women are suffering from dehydration due to water shortages in some camps, and tensions are increasing as basic services, such as toilets and showers, are stretched.”
Save the Children called on the EU to provide the Greek authorities with more resources so that they can speed up the painfully slow process of asylum claims being heard.
Under a grand EU plan announced earlier this year, tens of thousands of genuine refugees are supposed to be given asylum and resettled in other European countries.
But very little progress has been made and refugees are despairing as they wait months to find out whether their asylum requests will be granted.
“Processing of asylum claims is moving at a snail’s pace and most people are not allowed to leave the islands until their claim has been reviewed,” said the charity.
Anger and frustration among migrants and refugees is also boiling over in France. A fight which broke out in a migrant camp near Dunkirk on Monday night left two men with gunshot wounds.
The confrontation took place in the Grand-Synthe migrant camp, which is on the road between Dunkirk and Calais. It houses about 800 migrants, most of them from the Middle East and North Africa