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Refugees and asylum seekers on Greek islands lose hope and will to live

Refugees on the Greek islands are in dire situation, quite possibly the worst of the worst. People have lost all hope, Hristos Hristu, international director of Doctors without Borders, has said.

Athens, 21 December 2019 (MIA) – Refugees on the Greek islands are in dire situation, quite possibly the worst of the worst. People have lost all hope, Hristos Hristu, international director of Doctors without Borders, tells MIA’s correspondent in Athens, commenting on the Balkan migrant route that is still used despite being shut down.

“The situation on the islands is tragic. The reason behind this is not only the borderline inhumane conditions they’re being kept in, not only the numerous new obstacles they face regarding healthcare access, asylum, and even basic living conditions. No, what makes matters worse is their mental health, which has reached a critical point. This is why we draw a comparison to other parts of the world, and why we say that it’s worse than the worst places in the world.

I see blank stares in the eyes of children, and people who have lost their hope and will to live,” Hristu says.

The international Doctors without Borders director explains that they don’t have concrete data surrounding how many refugees and migrants continue to traverse the Balkan route, which has been shut down, but people have been using illegal border crossings to get through.

“In Greece, as well as in BiH and Serbia, DwB has initiated projects and programs in order to see what’s happening on this Balkan route. Right now, I can’t share any specific numbers, but I’ve spoken to the Mission Chief in Greece who tracks these programs. We know that movement exists, from people who have faced all sorts of challenges like the ones I’ve seen on the islands,” Hristu says.

He has held a press conference at the Foreign Press Association of Greece regarding the DwB visit of Samos and Lesbos, in order to share experiences from the refugee shelters on these islands.

Hristu states that the conditions that refugees and asylum seekers are kept in are so bad that they don’t even have drinking water in Samos. Some of them come, hoping for a brief stay, but that it could end up lasting for three years.

“After almost four years of the EU-Turkey deal, we’ve got 37,000 people living in illegal camps who have completely lost their dignity. People are trapped in conditions that could be compared to the worst places that DwB has worked in.

Some parts of Camp Moria have one toilet per 200 people. It’s even worse in Samos; one toilet per 300. “Need I remind you that international standards dictate one toilet per 20 people?” Hristu points out.

In regards to the new policy of the Greek government to shut down the pre-existing camps and build closed-off centers in their place, the president of DwB says that the solution is not to close shelters and to build something with better conditions that could serve as a prison at the same time.

At the meeting with the foreign correspondents in Greece, Hristu presented photographs from the improvised Samos and Lesbos camps – the tents in which the refugees and migrants are placed in, living in “completely inhumane conditions.” “This human tragedy must be stopped immediately,” he urged.

Despite the continuous asylum seekers’ transfers to different Greek islands, the number of migrants and refugees on Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos remains extremely high. The good weather conditions are attractive for smugglers, who bring in new waves of migrants each day.

According to official data from the Greek government, 1,807 refugees and migrants arrived to the country, between November 18 and November 21, with only 391 being transferred from the islands to other parts of the country.

Since November 21, 2019, 38,479 refugees and migrants currently reside on the Greek islands in the eastern part of the Aegean Sea. 18,163 of them are on Lesbos, whereas 15,946 reside in Camp Moria, which has the capacity to shelter 2,840 people.

Sanja Ristovska

Translated by Dragana Knežević

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