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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 January 2019

Oxfam says EU is failing vulnerable refugees in Lesbos

A damning report condemned the Greek government and the EU over its policies on refugees

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

A leading charity has accused the Greek government and the European Union of failing vulnerable refugees by leaving them trapped on islands for “indefinite periods”.

A report by Oxfam published on Wednesday said hundreds of pregnant women, unaccompanied children and survivors of torture are being abandoned in refugee camps like Moria, on the island of Lesbos.

Oxfam said conditions at Moria, which is at almost twice its capacity, were squalid with many people living in unheated tents, without sufficient access to washing facilities and toilets. Heavy rain has turned the camp into a muddy bog and temperatures are expected to dip below freezing in the coming days.

The Britain-based NGO said that for much of 2018, there was just one government-appointed doctor in Lesbos, responsible for screening as many as 2,000 people arriving each month.

The report said that mothers were sent away from hospitals to live in a tent as early as four days after giving birth via caesarean section. It said survivors of sexual violence were being lumped together with other refugees at Moria, where two thirds of residents say they never feel safe.

Oxfam said they had identified a “worrying trend” of locking up teenagers and survivors of torture without recognising that they were vulnerable. The charity said it had come across many detainees who should not have been held because of their age or physical or mental health status.

Renata Rendón, Oxfam’s Head of Mission in Greece, said humanitarian groups were trying to improve conditions but this was made “almost impossible by policies supported by the Greek government and EU”.

“It is irresponsible and reckless to fail to recognise the most vulnerable people and respond to their needs. Our partners have met mothers with newborn babies sleeping in tents, and teenagers wrongly registered as adults being locked up,” Ms Rendón said.

“Surely identifying and providing for the needs of such people is the most basic duty of the Greek government and its European partners.”

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An agreement between the EU and Turkey in 2016 designed to reduce the number of people arriving on the continent has left thousands stranded on Greek islands such as Lesbos in the Aegean Sea.

The deal means those who have arrived on the islands who have their asylum requests rejected must return to Turkey.

But slow asylum procedures- partly caused by the high the number of applications- has left 15,000 waiting to be processed. Migrants are unable to leave the islands for the mainland leading to overcrowding in the refugee camps known as “hotspots” on the islands.

Oxfam has called on Greece and the other EU member states to deploy more expert staff to the Greek islands and transfer more asylum seekers to the mainland on a regular basis.

Updated: January 9, 2019 08:44 PM

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