by Aggelos Skordas
As the temperature in Greece is significantly dropping over the last few days and the weather forecasts foreseeing further cold, NGO Human Rights Watch forewarns the country’s authorities to urgently transfer the remaining asylum seekers on the islands of Eastern and Northern Aegean to the mainland and provide them with adequate accommodation. As of Thursday, December 21, those trapped in the islands’ structures exceed 13,500, while the Greek government (with the support from its European Union partners) has committed to move some 5,000 migrants and refugees as an emergency measure before the onset of heavy winter. Despite the transfer of almost 3,000 people since early December the hotspots of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos remain overcrowded, hosting twice the number of their capacity.
“While Prime Minister Tsipras’s decision to move 5,000 asylum seekers from the islands to the mainland is beneficial for those moved, it is still a half measure that leaves thousands others out in the cold. It is an important start but more is needed, including support from other European Union governments, to make sure that no one has to spend the winter in a freezing tent”, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch, Eva Cossé highlighted on Thursday.
In a campaign that began on December 1, 13 human rights and aid organisations called on Tsipras to end Greece’s policy of containing asylum seekers on the islands. The groups said that Greek authorities should immediately transfer people to improved conditions on the mainland and take concrete measures before the official start of winter so that no asylum seekers are left out in the cold. The groups also said that other European Union leaders should take a clear stand to end the containment policy that keeps asylum seekers trapped on the islands under an agreement with Turkey to send people refused asylum back there, the NGO underlines.
It should be noted that during last winter, five, including a child, lost their lives due to exposure to low temperatures in the camp of Moria, Lesvos, solely. “Greek and European Union authorities have a responsibility to prevent such tragedies from happening again”, Cossé noted.