SEATTLE, Washington — As of October 26, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) reports that there are more than 61,000 persons of concern in Greece. The U.N. defines all asylum-seekers, regardless of whether they have been granted asylum, as persons of concern. The government has created 50,000 accommodation places for refugees in Greece in camps spread throughout the country.
Since the beginning of the crisis, arrivals have decreased significantly. In October of last year, more than 210,000 refugees arrived at the shores of Greece whereas this year it was only 2,635. The total number of arrivals for 2015 is 856,723. For 2016, it is 169,459. The majority comes from the world’s top refugee-producing countries, a list that is headed by Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The reduction in numbers, however, is not the whole story. Whilst the situation in Greece seems to be stabilizing, more refugees make their way to Italy. The crossing there is more dangerous, and the number of dead and missing has risen.
The E.U.-Turkey deal signed last March has failed in its attempt to solve the crisis. Anyone crossing the border after that was to remain on the island until their asylum request was processed. Lesvos, a Greek island close to Turkey, has the most traffic. In 2016 alone, over 94,000 refugees arrived and remained there, stranded, for extended periods of time. The desperation they felt culminated in them burning facilities at the central registration camp.
Even for those on the mainland, life is not easy. There are not enough places in camps for refugees, and the conditions are far from ideal. Most of the camps are overpopulated and there have been reports of hygiene violations. Many squat in abandoned buildings in the center of Athens. They wait for months to get their asylum application reviewed, and if they are granted protection it is only valid for six months.
“We are psychologically destroyed here. We can’t even travel to Athens because we can’t afford to keep paying for the train,” said Nematollah, an Afghan resident of camp in the middle of nowhere outside Athens. He is one of many refugees in Greece who find their life at a standstill.
The E.U. relocation program that came into effect last April does not apply to Afghans. Their only options are either to apply for asylum in Greece or return back to war-torn Afghanistan.
When the Greek government opened its borders, it expected other countries of the European Union to do the same. This never happened, and as the refugees do not want to stay in Greece but move on to more prosperous member states like Germany, tensions have been high.
A Doctors Without Borders worker states that the organization is “quite concerned whether these settlements are ready to host this amount of people in a dignified way,” with regards to the camps set up for refugees in Greece.
More than 8,000 people had gathered in Idomeni, a makeshift camp on the border of Macedonia. They refused to leave until granted passage. It was a tough place. Some went on hunger strikes, others killed themselves. In May, the Greek government announced that the camp will be closing. Many refugees feared that their fate in the camps would be worse and refused to leave. The police had to intervene to move them out.
– Eliza Gkritsi