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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

Greece must do more to ease the suffering of refugees

With suicide rates soaring, conditions and safety in squalid camps must be improved

A makeshift camp next to the Moria camp for refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos, Greece. Giorgos Moutafis / Reuters
A makeshift camp next to the Moria camp for refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos, Greece. Giorgos Moutafis / Reuters

The news that large numbers of refugees are considering and even attempting suicide in the migrant camp of Moria on the island of Lesbos should come as no surprise to the Greek authorities. The report from the International Rescue Committee, which in March set up mental health services for the refugees on the island, reinforces repeated warnings from various organisations over the past year.

Earlier this month Médecins Sans Frontières declared the badly overcrowded and unsanitary camp to be in a state of emergency, with “overwhelming numbers of people suffering from serious mental health conditions”.

With capacity for 3,000 people, Moria currently houses in excess of 9,000, half of whom are women and children. Most are from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Haunted by the horrors from which they have fled, the most vulnerable among them are now being further traumatised by the violence, squalor and sheer hopelessness of life in the camp. Theirs is an enduring nightmare, rendered only more grotesque by the close proximity of holidaymakers enjoying some of Europe’s best hotels and beaches.

The Greek government says it plans to transfer 2,000 people from Moria to the mainland by the end of the month. That is a start, but much more must be done, and urgently.

Agencies such as IRC say a few simple steps could improve life in Moria and the other Greek island camps quickly and immeasurably. Single women and children should be protectively segregated, sewage facilities must be improved and better security and lighting installed.

Asylum applications must also be speeded up. At least 50 per cent of those who have so far been processed seem likely to remain in Greece. Keeping thousands more penned up in squalid camps as they await hearings smacks of incompetence or indifference.

This crisis was thrust upon Greece by an unhappy convergence of geography and geopolitics. As refugees continue to arrive it is being left to cope without much support from its European partners. In Salzburg last week EU leaders once again failed to agree on a unified migration strategy.

But fair or not, the immediate responsibilty for those who have reached out to Europe for help lies with the Greeks, and it is to Greece that the world now looks for a compassionate response worthy of a modern, civilised nation.