Oxfam criticises movement of vulnerable migrants to Greek camp unfit for purpose

New temporary facility on Lesbos ‘hosts thousands of people in terrible conditions’

 Syrian refugees arrive on Lesbos. UNHCR
 Syrian refugees arrive on Lesbos. UNHCR

A model Greek camp that helped vulnerable migrants is facing closure and its inhabitants are being moved to an inadequate facility that is unable to properly help them, Oxfam warned.

Migrants had been held in the Kara Tepe camp, praised by aid organisations for its ability to handle the most needy people as they arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos.

But now, with Kara Tepe closing, about 500 people have been moved to Mavrovouni, a temporary camp also on Lesbos that Oxfam says is unfit for purpose.

“The UN and the EU had plans to move all vulnerable people to better accommodation in other parts of Greece but we learned last week that around 500 people were transferred to Mavrovouni – a temporary camp that hosts thousands of people in terrible conditions,” Raphael Shilhav, a policy expert at Oxfam International, told The National.

The Kara Tepe camp on Lesbos. AFP/file
The Kara Tepe camp on Lesbos. AFP/file

“We can say confidently that it is wrong to try to hold asylum seekers in confined centres close to the border over long periods of time,” he said.

The Greek island of Lesbos has become a popular destination for people trying to escape poverty and violence and reach the European Union.

Mavrovouni consists of fragile tents, only one in three toilets are working and hot showers are a rarity, the charity said.

“The problem is that the majority of people in Kara Tepe were vulnerable, so they needed specific reception conditions," Mr Shilhav said.

A Greek social worker said: “The security situation for women is of particular concern. Women in the camps say they do not feel safe. Some do not feel safe enough to leave their tents to shower, so instead they are bathing inside their tents.”

“For those who have already experienced sexual abuse, the scant support services and sense of fear can be a re-traumatisation,” said the social worker, who requested anonymity.

Mr Shilhav said camps need to be upgraded to efficiently and humanely deal with arriving migrants.

“What is needed is a reception system for people rescued at sea which facilitates their identification, assesses their immediate needs and helps them meet a doctor, a lawyer, and other professionals who can support,” he said.

“Then, they should be relocated to other [EU] member states who can help them to integrate into communities and rebuild a healthy life.

“Closed centres where women and families are forced to sleep in flimsy tents run against anything Europe should aim to achieve through its asylum policies.”

A second model camp, Pipka, which was suitable for dealing with the most serious migrant cases, was closed in October 2020 leaving Kara Tepe as the only other option.

Humanitarian medical non-governmental organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres also expressed concern at people being moved out of Kara Tepe.

"It is devastating to see the health of our patients get worse because they are forced to return to unsafe accommodation," said an MSF doctor.

The UN Refugee Agency has also asked the Greek government not to transfer people from Kara Tepe until a new permanent camp is completed.

Published: May 4, 2021 04:34 PM

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