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  • Writer's pictureDearbhla

Greece: The EU’s Waiting Room

As crises deepen, so too does the need for better infrastructure and services. Yet, Greece is simply unable to cope with the influx of refugees, resulting in inhumane and cramped conditions for those who find themselves vulnerable and at the EU's mercy.

For nearly a week now the water has been shut off at the camp and tensions are running extremely high. People have been unable to wash and although there is bottle distribution for drinking water, it is limited, with each family having to ration what they have for cooking. The indignity of not being able to keep clean is bad enough but parents are distraught at having to send their children to the local Greek school unwashed, a place where they are already viewed as outcasts.


The excuse? Over-consumption at the camp has caused a burst in the pipes. The camp is way over-capacity, yet the water provision and infrastructure have neither increased nor improved. Camps are rarely occupied for the short-term and a lack of foresight and emergency response strategy has meant that over-capacity is a daily occurrence across all camps.


Cramped and Under-Resourced


Conditions under which refugees are forced to live in some camps are diabolical as a result of extreme overcrowding. In Moria on Lesvos, there are 5,000 residents living in a camp built for 1,500 people and many have to go two or three weeks without washing. It is absolutely shameful to allow human beings to remain in these dire situations.


Compared to camps like Moria, Ritsona has been described as a “5* camp”, but should not be a barometer for all displacement settlement camps. These camps are established to provide centralised protection and humanitarian aid. Initially, all Ritsona residents were staying in tents but since last year, everyone now lives in standardised shipping containers, or ISO boxes, which are in part, similar to tiny portacabins. They are each equipped with a small toilet, beds, and in most cases, a kitchen. There are additional separate kitchens that anyone can use located within the camp. Although these containers are a big leap from living in tents, conditions remain very cramped.


Ritsona is situated in the hills of Evia and is a three-hour walk to Chalkida, the nearest town. A bus organised by the UN takes the children in and out to school in the mornings, and a separate bus arranged by an NGO on-site takes residents to Athens or Chalkida weekly. If it weren’t for NGOs based on camp, like Lighthouse Relief and I AM YOU, there would be very little for young residents to do all day; limited access to the main towns, pre-school, after-school activities or a centre for young people to learn and decompress in.


Where there is over-population, health risks and protection threats for vulnerable groups, which includes women and children, increase exponentially. Although there is access to medical care and psychosocial support, it is still severely limited. The reality is that many camps and detention centres don’t even have medical services available, so any form of psychosocial support is a ‘bonus’ in a place with an ever-expanding funding deficit.

A dearth of on-site medical care means that on top of a plethora of other issues, many of the children have rotting teeth, which can pose very real health problems. There is only one psychologist to nearly 900 people on site who are all suffering from PTSD in some form or another, and means women and children who have been subjected to violence do not have anywhere to go.

The camp is additionally set in a disused army barracks near an army airstrip, which inevitably, if you have travelled thousands of miles to escape the relentless air strikes and bombings, doesn’t exactly make dealing with trauma easier, particularly for the children. The steady hum of low-flying aircraft overhead can be disturbing for many. A small child at the Child-Friendly Space ducks down under the table and shouts each time the planes fly by; indicative of the trauma he must have experienced at such a young age.


Impeding Protection Services and Provision


As crises deepen, so too does the need for better infrastructure and services. Greece is far from a paragon of best practice in emergency response. An already flailing economy, it hardly has the resources to deal with its own mess let alone support the over 54,000 refugees currently waiting in Greece. Funding mismanagement and flagging EU support are all compounding an ongoing problem. Greece is simply unable to cope with the influx of refugees.

The EU-Turkey deal, signed in March 2016, enabled the EU to snap its borders shut overnight leaving more than 45,000 people stranded in Greece.

Not only this but what the EU-Turkey deal effectively presumes is that Turkey is a safe place for refugees. Given Turkey’s human rights record, this is disputable. Turkish ‘rescue’ teams have shot migrants attempting to cross borders, and most refugees in Turkey have not even been granted official refugee status, which means that the conditions in which they are kept fall way below international standards of protection. It’s no wonder no one here wants to be in Turkey.


Turkey’s incentive for bringing refugees back to Greece has little to do with helping those in distress but more to do with monetary compensation from the EU for each refugee sent back to Turkey. To make matters worse, Turkey isn’t even channelling the money into helping Syrian refugees, demanding that the EU instead give the funds directly to the government. The deal isn’t working though as most have chosen to repeal asylum applications and live in limbo than be repatriated to a place where their lives are valued even less than they are by EU officials.


There is no reason why any camp should not have access to adequate shelter, healthcare, hygiene and drinking water despite funding shortages. Denying people their basic level human rights is not a ‘deterrent’ for people attempting to access the EU, it is barbaric and inhuman. If any one of the fat cats lording over people’s lives or the people protesting migrants entering ‘their’ country had to answer to any one of the men, women or children living at any of these camps, they wouldn’t be able to justify themselves. The way we treat people seeking asylum is shameful and the EU can and must do better.

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