Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

Infant death exposes overcrowding at Greek island camps

Tens of thousands of migrants stuck in limbo as Europe prepares to shore up Turkey’s border guards

Migrants at a makeshift camp on the Greek island of Lesbos on Friday. Reuters
Migrants at a makeshift camp on the Greek island of Lesbos on Friday. Reuters

Campaigners have called for action following the death of a 9-month-old baby died late last week from severe dehydration in Greece’s Moria camp on the Island of Lesbos.

Doctors without Borders (MSF) said a local hospital confirmed the child’s death as it called for migrants housed at the overcrowded camp to be moved.

“We are absolutely devastated by this new tragedy,” the charity said in a tweet.

“They should be moved out of this hell NOW.”

Tommaso Santo, MSF's head of mission in Greece, said: "We are absolutely devastated by the news of the death of a 9 month old baby in Moria."

The child’s death has drawn attention to the state of Greece’s island camps.

"We consider that this death could have been prevented in any other place in Europe," Mr Santo said.

"In Moria camp, where thousands of people are being deliberately held in inhumane and horrendous conditions with NGOs and volunteers trying to cover the gaps in healthcare left by the Greek authorities, it could not."

Approximately 15,000 migrants are currently living at the Moria camp on Lesbos, around five times the number for which it was originally designed.

MSF added that 5,000 children are among those living on the island.

"The situation in the camp is an everyday emergency," said Mr Santo.

Similar overcrowding has been observed at other island camps.

On the island of Samos, a camp originally built to house 650 people is now home to more than 6,000.

The camp now exceeds its original boundaries and the thousands of migrants are struggling to find space in the hills above the town.

Georgios Stantzos, newly elected mayor for the eastern half of the island, said “We are past the red line.”

“We are trying to remain calm but the situation is not manageable – it gets worse every day,” he added.

The island is close to the Turkish mainland and is a key route for migrants travelling by sea to Europe.

At the beginning of November Greece began shifting large number of migrants from the island camps to the mainland in an effort to alleviate overcrowding.

But last week a report last week warned that asylum seekers arriving at “hotspots” in Greece and Italy face limbo that can drag on for years because of poorly performing EU schemes and legal bottlenecks.

The audit looked at EU projects meant to alleviate the pressure on the so-called hotspots - camps on Greek islands and in Italy, where migrants' asylum claims were examined and designated refugees were meant to be vetted for relocation to other EU states.

"Most of the projects we looked at had not fully achieved their targets," the report found.

An "increasing backlog in Greece" was contributing to staggeringly overcrowded conditions in the camps, while in Italy a mountain of appeals over unsuccessful asylum claims had clogged the courts.

As a result, asylum-seekers in Greece were waiting up to four years to get an initial examination of their case, while those in Italy were staying on while their appeals languished.

More than 100,000 migrants have been recorded as arriving in Europe by the Mediterranean routes so far this year, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

Of those, almost 60,000 arrived in Greece, with most travelling by sea from Turkey.

Maciej Popowski, deputy director general for EU enlargement policy said last week that the bloc was preparing to pay Turkey tens of millions of euros to bolster its coastguard as authorities in Greece struggle with continuing arrivals.

“We have prepared a set of measures amounting to some 50 million euros (Dh 203 million),” he said.

He added that part of the money would help “improve the capacities of the Turkish coast guard to perform search-and-rescue operations”.

But Mr Popowski said “the Turkish military operation in northern Syria has complicated things,” because the EU does not want to be involved in any attempt to send refugees into the area and it refuses to fund any Turkish military action.

Updated: November 18, 2019 07:51 PM

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