Moria 2: Serious gaps in conditions amidst the pandemic and winter arrival

One month after the establishment of the temporary Reception and Identification structure (RIC) in the area of Kara Tepe on Lesvos, conditions remain substandard and recent government decisions are expected to restrict significantly reception alternatives on the island. The new camp does not even have showers for the more than 7.600 refugees living there, with sea water being the only alternative amidst pandemic conditions, despite the lower temperatures! Few days ago, the UN Refugee Agency referred to critical gaps “in drainage, water, sanitation, hygiene and health services that need to be addressed without any delay”.

Following the complete destruction of Moria RIC on 8 and 9 September, the European Commission granted €750,000 in emergency assistance to Greece and several Member States send supplies for the new camp. Its location is considered particularly inappropriate as it is exposed to all weather conditions. Until now, the camp has been flooded twice following the first autumn rainfalls on Lesvos as there was no appropriate drainage. In a desperate attempt to protect their tents from the flood, refugees dig grooves for the water and trenches around them. Refugees we spoke with expressed also their worries about the safety of electricity cables situated outside their tents and exposed to the weather conditions.

Last week, the UN Refugee Agency delivered to the camp materials to protect tents and common areas from rain and flooding, placed flooring under 216 tents and started delivering kits to insulate family tents. On 16 October, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum announced that it will start immediately work on protection from flooding and upgrading of the structures in the camp following the completion of a tender. Approval was anticipated for the funding of the whole amount of the tender from EU funds.

Without mattresses and beds

According to official statistics, currently there are 7.660 persons living in the new camp and its capacity is for 10.000 There are more than 1.100 family tents with capacity for 6 to 8 persons each and over 8 rubhalls that operate also as areas for emergencies. The UN Refugee Agency has distributed core relief items. The tents have no beds and the refugees are forced to sleep on the ground on top of plastic ground sheets or on top of blankets.

“Me and my parents who are elderly, are forced to sleep on the grounds. We use tarps and on top of them a blanket. The ground is uneven. In the morning, when we wake up, we find it difficult to move”, said Ali Mohamedi* from Afganistan.

His tent is shared among eight persons. The situation is particularly difficult in the rubhalls where – amidst the pandemic – up to 150 single men sleep in bunk beds placed one next to the other.

Serious deficiencies in hygiene facilities

The lack of showers in the camp is one of the main problems that refugees we spoke with face at the moment.

“Sometimes, there are three to four days that we have not been able to have a shower. Then we go to the sea to bathe where the water is cold”,says Naser*, a victim of torture from Syria.

«Many of the women are forced to go to the sea during the night to have a bath, as during the day there are many men around and they want to avoid indiscreet gazes”, says Shafigheh* a young woman from Afghanistan who lives with her mother and brother in a tent.

The refugees are forced to wash their clothes in the sea as water provision is limited and they have to wait for several hours in the queue for the water taps to fill in their water containers. It is also a fact that several do not have sufficient clothing as their belongings were destroyed in the Moria fire. Regarding the toilets, they say that their number is insufficient and most times they are immensely dirty. According to reports referring to government statements, last week there were 400 toilets in the camp and their cleaning took place once a day.

Queues everywhere

Refugees are forced once more to wait for up to three hours in the queue for their meals. They report that meal distribution takes place once a day and meals are provided for the whole day including three liters of water.

“Food is not of good quality. When we eat it, we get ill. When we have electricity we cook ourselves”, says Shafigheh.

They also have to wait in the queue to visit a doctor inside the camp.

«There are cases where you go at 8 am when the infirmary opens, and you leave at 5 pm… I have asked repeatedly to speak to a psychologist and what they say to me is ‘wait’. But until when?” says the young Afghan.

According to reports, currently within the camp, medical services are provided under the coordination of the National Organization of Public Health (EODY) by the following organizations: Kitrinos, Médecins du Monde, Red Cross and the Norwegian Emergency Medical Team. Outside the structure, there are the two clinics of Médecins Sans Frontières, one in Mytilene and one outside the destroyed Moria RUC while active also are the International Rescue Commitee (IRC) and Medical Volunteers International (MVI).

‘Vostaneio’ General Hospital in Mytilene which is a reference hospital for COVID-19 has limited access to the outpatients services. According to information by the UN Refugee Agency, on Friday there were 24 persons in quarantine in the new camp out of whom 19 had tested positive to COVID-19.

Without sufficient protective equipment from COVID-19

Refugees report that they have not been provided sufficient protective equipment from COVID-19 and that social distancing measures are impossible to be implemented.

“We simply wear a mask. They did not distribute us anything else. When we entered the camp, they gave us a tooth paste, a tooth brush, five masks and a tank to fill with water”, says Naser.

Refugees report that they are allowed to exit the camp between 8 am to 8 pm apart from Sundays. When they return, they are forced to wait several hours in the queue to enter the camp as they are subjected to exhaustive checks in relation to the items they carry with them.

“Even if you want to go to the supermarket and return, you must wait in this huge queue. For this reason, we avoid exiting the camp. We go out only once a week”, says Shafigheh.

The broader degradation of the reception system on Lesvos

The current conditions in the new camp in Kara Tepe cause many concerns and questions, particularly if one takes into account the announcement of the European Commission at the end of September regarding the establishment of a task force with a mission to improve the situation on Lesvos and co-assist in the creation of sufficient living conditions for refugees.

In this inadequate camp, the government according to reports will transfer vulnerable refugees hosted currently in the self-organized structure of PIKPA that the authorities asked to be evacuated and the refugees from the Municipality-run structure in Kara Tepe that is planned to close at the end of December. The impending closure of these structures has mobilized thousands of people around the world and a large number of Greek and international human rights organizations. On Wednesday, the Secretary General for Social Solidarity and Combatting Poverty of the Ministry of Labour announced orally the temporary suspension of the decision to close PIKPA without determining the exact time frame.

The security and health of thousands of refugees at risk

It is reminded that taking into account the aforementioned conditions, the European Court of Human Rights indicated interim measures to the Greek government to protect the life and physical integrity of two asylum seekers that have been previously identified as vulnerable by the Reception and Identification Service.

The current inadequate conditions in the new temporary camp and winter arrival will place in even greater danger the life, health and security of the thousands of refugees living there. The Minister for Migration and Asylum mentioned that the new permanent structures is anticipated to be ready next summer, which is more than eight months from now. Following the fire that destroyed Moria only 2.500 individuals have been transferred from the island while it is expected that an additional 1.300 will be relocated to other EU Member States.

Refugee Support Aegean repeats its call for the immediate transfer of refugees from the islands to dignified structures in the mainland and their relocation to other EU Member States as well as the maintenance of existing structures on the island such as PIKPA and Kara Tepe which secure due reception conditions

* All names have been changed to protect privacy and security.

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