Another dignified reception facility shut down

Another dignified reception facility shut down

Photo: Elias Marcou

The refugee reception facility run by the Mytilene Municipality in Kara Tepe is expected to close until 30 April. This follows the closure of the open reception facilities of PIKPA in Mytilene and PIKPA in Leros last autumn. It is expected that by the of the year, the remaining reception facilities (ESTIA flats) on Lesvos and Chios will cease their operation. The government took this decision amidst the pandemic, while Greece has received repeated criticism for the reception conditions in the temporary Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) of Mavrovouni, Lesvos. Residents of Kara Tepe are already being transferred there.

The reception facility in Kara Tepe was made available in 2015 by the Mytilene Municipality during the large arrivals of refugee. It is situated in a former traffic park adjacent to a sewage installation. The place was abandoned and looted. It was gradually built thanks to donations and the assistance of hundreds of volunteers. It offers accommodation capacity for 1,200 persons and has at times hosted up to 1,350 persons belonging mainly to vulnerable groups, such as families with small children, elderly people, people with chronic health conditions, people with disabilities and single women. Kara Tepe is under the management of Mytilene Municipality, with the support of UNHCR and other organisations. On Friday 23 April 2021, 620 persons were hosted there. According to media reports, 50 people were transferred in the early hours of 24 April 2021 to the temporary RIC of Mavrovouni, while more are to be gradually transferred in the coming days. According to available information, recognised refugees are being transferred to the RIC. 

The residents of the Kara Tepe reception facility live in containers. In addition, there are beds, heating, water and electricity, meaning conditions guaranteeing basic dignified living. Despite the significant problems that residents faced over the years of operation of the facility, there were a series of creative activities for minors and adults, as well as educational and intercultural initiatives. In addition, refugee children had been enrolled in public schools and attended classes either in person or online due to COVID-19 restrictions. A play area is also set up in the facility.

It remains unclear how many of the asylum seekers required to leave Kara Tepe will be transferred to mainland facilities and how many will be transferred to the temporary RIC in Mavrovouni, where people live in tents without beds, hygiene conditions or any safety. Meanwhile, children are excluded from accessing public schools.

Jafar*, a man from Afghanistan residing with his family for one year in the Kara Tepe facility, is worried about the prospect of their transfer to Mavrovouni. “We have no choice and we have nowhere to go. We waited here for two years, without knowing what will happen to us. We have no other choice… Things will be hard for us in that camp, because we have a very small child”. One of the children of the family is enrolled in a Mytilene primary school but will not be able to continue attending classes when the family is transferred to the temporary RIC of Mavrovouni.

Moreover, people transferred to Kara Tepe last October from the former open reception facility in PIKPA are yet again faced with uncertainty, as they have not yet been informed of the exact time and place of their impeding transfer.

“I was informed last night that the centre will close. Everyone will be transferred to the new camp. I could not sleep that night. I remember that morning, when PIKPA closed, everyone was stressed. Europe has become a nightmare for asylum seekers”, states a former resident of PIKPA who is waiting to be transferred from Kara Tepe to the temporary RIC.

Photo: Elias Marcou

The Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarakis, has promised to deliver Kara Tepe to the town citizens. This promise seems highly cynical, in light of yet another humanitarian tragedy unfolding a few meters away in the temporary camp. Through this decision, the government is in essence moving people to substantially worse conditions without sufficient grounds. The same Minister spoke of “poor living conditions for residents” and of “facilities without security safeguards for residents or locals… which must immediately close and be replaced by adequate infrastructure”, referring to the temporary RIC in Mavrovouni and the VIAL camp on Chios a few days ago.

Mr Mitarakis has also stated that the remaining accommodation sites on Lesvos (ESTIA apartments) will cease operating upon the completion of the new facility, in any event by November 2021. This demand has also been expressed in a recent decision of the Mytilene Municipal Council. According to the statements, the policy aims at “phasing out phenomena of multiple reception centres in various locations on the same island”. The Minister has repeatedly stressed that the so-called Closed Controlled Island Facility (Κλειστή Ελεγχόμενη Δομή Νήσων, KEDN) will constitute within 2021 the sole place of residence for asylum seekers in the Municipality of Mytilene. In a letter to the Mytilene Mayor, the Minister refers to a capacity of 3,000 people, whereas a memorandum with the EU refers to 5,000 people.

The facility is set to be built in Vastria, in proximity to a waste burial site in a remote area of north-eastern Lesvos. It will be equipped with a NATO-type double military fence and advanced security systems. A closed detention centre will operate adjacent to the site. According to the letter addressed to the Mytilene Mayor, that centre will serve among others for detention of new arrivals for a 25-day period.

Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) highlights the obligation of the Greek State to guarantee dignified reception conditions for asylum seekers. Imposing destitution on people seeking refuge in Europe in inadequate facilities such as the temporary RIC of Mavrovouni is not a deterrence measure. It only acts as a burden on refugees themselves and on local communities. 

*Names have been anonymized to protect privacy and security 



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