HUMILIATING RECEPTION CONDITIONS AS A DETERRENT TO PREVENT REFUGEE ARRIVALS ON THE AEGEAN ISLANDS
Two years after the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement (“deal”), the very poor reception conditions in the Ηot Spots of the Aegean coupled with the policy of geographical restriction are two of the most important deterrence factors for refugee flows from Turkey.
This period has been marked by five refugee deaths that are closely linked to the miserable conditions in Moria’s Ηot Spot, scenes of snow-covered tents, conflicts between different nationalities or refugees and police, situations that have a huge impact upon the mental health of the already burdened refugees.
Overcrowding is a key problem of all three larger Hot Spots on Lesvos, Chios and Samos islands that aggravates the already very difficult conditions. Last October and November, around 3,000 people were sleeping during rainfalls in tents at Moria’s Hot Spot. Also, in January 2018, in the Hot Spot Vial vulnerable persons remained exposed staying in fields, on roads, or in rub halls without heating because the Hot Spot of Chios does not have the capacity of hosting the increased refugee arrivals.
The humiliating reception conditions, the lack of an effective system for identifying and referring vulnerable people, the waiting time for the registration and processing of asylum claims, and the entrapment of specific nationalities that in some case exceeds a year, have sparked a climate of insecurity and despair with frequent protests by refugees. These protests often result in clashes between different nationalities or refugees and security forces. In several cases, these tensions are accompanied by disproportionate use of force or ill-treatment by the police. A typical example of such violence was that after the riots in Moria in July 2017.
Refugee women inside these camps also experience a strong climate of insecurity as they live in constant fear of various forms of gender and sexual based violence. In addition, the geographical restriction policy and the insufficient number of spaces in shelters that refugees can be referred to, have entrapped in these conditions particularly vulnerable individuals (i.e. unaccompanied minors, pregnant women, persons belonging to the LGBTI community and victims of violence).
The Greek authorities’ delayed response in transferring a greater number of vulnerable people to the mainland since the end of 2017, constitutes just a temporary solution to maintain the fragile balance that exists in the refugee camps of the Aegean islands. However, such a balance can easily be destroyed if refugee flows increase again suddenly after the end of the winter of 2018.
Among all these, the Greek and European authorities carry a huge share of responsibility for a whole generation of refugee children who are re-traumatised as they remain in such conditions and without having access to one of their most basic rights: education. And all this, in the name of the success of an agreement which in essence has failed.
Danial* is an unaccompanied minor from Afghanistan and he was 16 years old when he arrived on Lesvos. This was few months after the implementation of the EU-Turkey “deal”. Although he passed through first reception and identification procedures at the Hot Spot, he has not been registered as a minor. Only one and half year after his registration he managed, following the intervention of his lawyer, to convince the Asylum Office to register his true age and treat him as a minor. By then, he had to spend one and half year in Moria before he was transferred to a safe shelter. During that period, he spend a year in a summer tent in an area designated for single adult men.
‘When I arrived in Greece, I was 16 year old. Our trip was terrifying, our boat got a puncture and water came inside it. The boat started to sink and I found myself into the water until the chest. Some prayed to God. We thought we were going to die. Finally, we managed to reach an island before the boat sank completely and the Greek authorities rescued us”
”Moria is not a place for humans. It is for animals”. Danial* witnessed a lot in Moria camp: he recalls three large fires, he saw one old woman and a little child burnt to death and multiple clashes and riots. ”At some point, I feared for my life. I was trapped between two groups that were fighting each other. The stones were landing right on my tent. Sometimes, I had to take my tent and sleep elsewhere”.
During the one and half year that Danial* spent in Moria, he lived through all adversities. ”During the snow we had a tough time. We were looking for blankets to put under our tent in order not to freeze. But even without snow, life in the camp was very difficult. We were bathing in the forest, in the sea or sometimes (used) the sink where we were washing the dishes while (at the same time) were shivering from the cold. For toilette, we had to use one of the eight terrible toilettes that were intended for more than 2,000 people, maybe 3,000.”
Danial’s asylum application was registered five months after his arrival. In his application as well as in his consecutive asylum interviews conducted by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), Danial* repeatedly stated that he is a minor and that he wants to reunite with his brother who resides in another European country. Despite the fact that in such cases the law explicitly provides that the authorities should refer the applicant to an age assessment procedure, Danial* was treated as an adult and was never referred (to such procedure). In particular, EASO did not take any steps to ensure that Danial* would undergo an age assessment procedure and proposed the rejection of his asylum claim on the basis that Danial* is safe not only in Turkey but also in Afghanistan, a country he has never been. After several months, Danial* received an appointment with a doctor at a public health institution. The doctor examined him and advised explicitly in favour of his minority. This outcome instigated a change in the Asylum Office’s decision. It took more than a year and series of interventions to treat Danial* as a child. During that period, he was forced to live under degrading and insecure conditions in Moria camp.
*The details of the young refugee have been changed in order to retain his anonymity.
Dying in Moria–Justice for refugee deaths in Hot Spots still delayed
On 28 January 2017, M.M., a forty five year-old father of six from Syria, died in the same tent where an Egyptian national had passed away few days earlier in Moria camp. Strong evidence and testimonies attribute these deaths to the inhalation of toxic fumes from stoves in which the refugees had burned litter in order to keep warm. To date, the official cause of death has not been announced. RSA spoke to relatives of the Syrian refugee, who are still waiting to be informed about the actual death causes of their beloved one.
“After M.M.`s body was transferred to Syria, his brother got in touch with us many times and conveyed the family’s feeling of agony about the investigation of the circumstances and causes of his brother’s death.Also M.’s wife sent us many messages: ‘I want to know why my husband died,’ she wrote.
His brother also described the tragic situation of the family with the six children who are staying at the border with Turkey. They live in the middle of war. Bombs are falling nearby and their mere survival is a very difficult task. Justice has to prevail at last and the people in charge have to assume their full responsibilities.
Neither the Greek nor the European authorities have been taught from the deaths in the Hot Spots and insist on the containment of refugees on the islands in order to implement the ‘deal’.”
Efi Latsoudi, RSA Lesbos, Nansen award winner 2016
Statistics of the day of the death of another two refugees in Moria hotspot by a propane gas explosion on 25.11.2016
Greek Hotspots: Deaths Not to Be Forgotten
According to the assessments of humanitarian organizations, there has been an increase of the number of torture victims arriving to Greece. At the same time, there is absence of necessary support and care for these persons. As a result, they are forced to live in terrible conditions and several times their vulnerability is not identified at all.
“One of the characteristics of people who have been victims of torture is the sense that they have lost their dignity. So when they are forced to live in such bad and overcrowded conditions, without supportive framework, we actually confirm this feeling of indignity. To wit, we traumatize them even further.”
Konstantina Kranou -Social Worker, specialised in psychotraumatology, RSA’s associate