Rights Group Call For End Of Greece’s Containment Policy

Around 20 human rights groups called on the Greek government and the European Union to find a solution for the thousands of refugees stuck on Greek islands without shelter before the weather worsens. According to these groups, including Amnesty International, Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, Greek Council for Refugees, and others, hundreds of lives will be lost under the current conditions of refugee camps on the islands. As of November 20, 2017, the refugee camps of Lesbos, Samos, and Chios are 7,000 people over capacity. For those who cannot fit into the camps, they must live outside in summer tents or on the ground. Groups are hoping that Greece will transfer more refugees to the mainland where there are more resources available. According to the Human Rights Watch, “Nothing can justify trapping people in these terrible conditions on the islands for another winter. Greece and other European Union member states should act urgently to remove the obstacles to people getting the care and assistance they need on the Greek mainland.”

This will be the second winter since the EU made a deal with Turkey, effectively closing the borders of Balkan countries like Greece to newly arriving refugees. Until the appropriate paperwork is completed and their status is approved, refugees are stuck on Greece’s surrounding islands with little resources. Human rights groups regularly criticize the “containment policy.” According to Jana Frey, the International Rescue Committee’s country director in Greece, “this remains a matter of life and death. There is absolutely no excuse for the conditions on the islands right now – thousands of people crammed into overcrowded and desperately under-resourced facilities. We are in a race against time. Lives will be lost – again – this winter – unless people are allowed to move, in an organized and voluntary fashion, to the mainland.” On overcrowded islands, small children are left out in the cold and women are forced to share tents with strange men. One refugee on Lesbos told reporters the island was beginning to feel like a “detention center.” As the weather gets colder, supplies will be in even shorter supply.

While some human rights groups focus on Greece’s role in the crisis, others demand that the EU plays a role because it is responsible for the deal with Turkey in the first place. Oxfam member Nicola Bay issued a statement, saying, “in an effort to make the EU-Turkey deal work, the Greek islands have been transformed into places of indefinite confinement for asylum seekers who have risked their lives in search of safety and a better life in Europe. The EU and the Greek government need to start putting people’s lives ahead of politics and uphold Europe’s commitment to human rights.” Many rights groups hope that the EU can place pressure on Greece and make sure that the refugees are given safe accommodations. The Greek government has yet to respond to the groups however. This raises concern because the fate of the refugees with no shelter is time sensitive and must be solved as soon as possible.

Kathleen Stone

I am currently a student at Bates College studying sociology and education.

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