Greek migrant camps facing ‘catastrophe’: envoy
Migrant camps in Greece are facing “catastrophe” and an “explosion”, according to a European-wide human rights envoy.
Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, said after visiting Greece that “urgent measures” were needed to address the “desperate conditions” in the camps.
Nearly 1 million migrants, including many fleeing Syria, crossed from Turkey to the Greek islands in 2015. Turkey agreed to a financial deal with the European Union to stop the influx but Turkey still hosts around 3.6 million Syrians.
In recent months the numbers of Syrian arrivals have risen again and all the Greek island camps are filled beyond capacity.
Mijatovic visited camps on the islands of Lesbos and Samos and in Corinth and said the unhygienic conditions were appalling.
“Urgent measures are needed to address the desperate conditions in which thousands of human beings are living. What we see in practice is telling me that human rights are not respected. This is an unacceptable situation,” she added.
The Greek government has said it has around 75,000 asylum requests to process and Mijatovic said there were approximately 100,000 migrants in the country.
There are more than 34,000 people in Greek island camps.
Athens has pledged to move 20,000 of them to camps on the mainland before 2020.
Greek MPs voted through a controversial bill on Friday with sweeping changes to the asylum system, including removing some options for appeal and making the deportation of failed applicants easier. The New Democracy government and the left-wing Movement of Change party both backed the legislation.
But the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other international observers say the measures will reduce safeguards for migrants.
Michalis Chrysochoidis, the minister for citizen protection, said the new law was “simply a precise adoption and implementation of the European [asylum] directive and the union’s asylum legislation”.
“It aims to achieve speeding up asylum procedures, respect by asylum seekers of the country’s laws and the rules set by the authorities, respect of their human rights and cooperation between them and the Greek authorities,” he said.
Some observers say the new rules impede access to asylum and undermine the right of appeal.
Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR’s representative in Greece, said the legislation “introduces stringent procedural requirements and formalities which an asylum seeker cannot reasonably be expected to fulfil”.
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