ATHENS — In 2016 alone, Greece received 173,450 refugee arrivals by sea. At the year’s end over 60,000 of those asylum seekers and migrants were still stranded in Greece in deplorable conditions.
The majority of arrivals have been Syrian, followed by Afghan and then Iraqi. The refugees arriving in Greece are seeking asylum from war zones, terrorist threats or brutal authoritarian regimes. The journey to Greece, executed by smugglers, is dangerous and often fateful in itself — yet those who make it believe life in the EU is worth the risk.
Upon arrival in Greece, those who risked their lives to come face the the grim reality of inhumane, and unorganized refugee camps. In time, if they are lucky enough to have their asylum claim accepted, migrants are subject to discrimination, abusive police treatment and more while legally within Greece’s borders.
The asylum seekers are not only disheartened but also oppressed by the situation of human rights in Greece.
According to the U.S. Department of State 2016 report, the country’s primary human rights issues stemmed from overcrowding and inhumane conditions in migrant registration and reception sites. The violations include: “gender-based violence; a lack of adequate shelter, food, and potable water; poor hygiene; and insufficient access to such services as health and pharmaceutical care, legal information and assistance, and psychological and social support.”
Police violence against migrants and asylum seekers was the next most substantial violation of human rights in Greece.
Upon visiting a migrant detention center in Corinth in January 2017, a U.S. delegation observed the lack of food, clothing, hygiene, lawyers, medication or doctors — declaring the camp ‘unacceptable’ in a post-visit statement.
This report demonstrates the dismal aftermath of the March 2016 deal between the EU and Turkey made to reduce the flow of refugees into Europe.
While the deal has reduced deaths in the Aegean Sea and significantly slowed the influx of migrants, it has conversely prolonged the suffering of asylum seekers, particularly on the Greek islands.
Reportedly, over 14,000 people are trapped on the Greek islands at camps nearly double their capacity. The facilities, under less regulation after the EU-Turkey deal, are characterized by abysmal conditions. Instances of sexual abuse/violence, suicide, self-harm and drug use are all increasing while the time refugees are trapped in the camp also increases.
In national crisis situations, the repercussions fall on the society’s most vulnerable. Greece’s refugee crisis is no exception. Many of the refugees who fled to Greece still have yet to find the asylum they were hoping to find. This is due to their entrapment in inhumane camps. The current situation of human rights in Greece is certainly not to the standard the EU has proudly upheld for decades.
Fortunately, the world’s leading non-profits such as Oxfam and the International Rescue Committee are raising awareness and fervently addressing the crisis in Greece. Volunteers have thus far provided more relief for refugees than the government. Not to be undervalued, it is the work of incredible NGOs such as Lighthouse Relief, PRAKSIS and DESMOS that continuously improve the quality of life for asylum seekers everyday and guide them towards a better future.
– Catherine Fredette