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Refugee camps in winter: NGOs join forces and urge Greece to take action

More than 60,000 refugees and migrants exposed to snow, rain and cold. Summer tents covered by snow. Pictures that shocked the world. Who is to blame? the EU Commission that sent the funds? the Greek government? The international refugee agencies? The NGOs?

Several non-governmental organizations, volunteers’ groups and networks working with refugees and migrants in Greece joined their voices against the Blame Game. And called on Greece’s authorities and Migration Ministry to take action and improve the “treacherous living conditions” in refugee camps.

WAKE UP, EUROPE: Human beings in life threatening conditions

With this statement, we, the people, networks and groups standing in solidarity with the refugees side by side, from inside and outside of the camps:

reject the Greek Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas’ most recent comments about conditions in the camps. In light of the presented evidence, we call for Mr Mouzalas to exercise responsibility by either issuing a clarification or retraction;
urge all parties to uphold, with utmost urgency, their responsibilities in providing adequate shelter for refugees on the Greek mainland and the Aegean islands, adapted to the winter conditions and respecting fundamental rights.
oppose any plans of the European Commission and European governments to resume planned Dublin returns to Greece after 15th March 2017 as survival in Greece cannot be guaranteed for the refugees in light of the inadequate living conditions.
On 28 December 2016, Mr Mouzalas announced that “there is no-one living in tents, no-one living without heating, with the only exception being 100 UNHCR tents in Elliniko [an Athens camp], that are winter tents and they do have heating.”

Despite clear evidence disputing that statement posted by various groups onsite, Mr Mouzalas declared on 5 January 2017, that “there are no refugees or migrants living in the cold anymore. We successfully completed the procedures for overwintering,” he said, with the exception of 40 tents left in Vayiohori [a camp near Thessaloniki] and another 100 in Athens.

These words are in stark contrast to the reality of life in the camps that we witness on a daily basis, as well as refugees’ reports from throughout Greece. Public statements like the aforementioned cannot remain undisputed.

Nearly €90m have been disbursed by the EU to the Greek Government and more than €14m to UNHCR to improve conditions at the camps before the winter. Yet, for the last months, more than 30,000 and 15,000 refugees on the mainland and the islands respectively, have been sleeping under inhumane and degrading conditions. Many camps remain without heating, electricity or hot water whilst temperatures drop below zero degrees during the night.

In Northern Greece, numerous refugee camps do not have heaters and electricity cuts are frequent. In Nea Kavala, even inside the ‘winterised’ containers, the water pipes are frozen and there is no warm water; the toilets won’t flush. In Softex, a camp in Thessaloniki, there are still 130 children under 12 living in deplorable conditions.

In Souda camp on Chios, more than 800 refugees still have no access to hot water; whilst some of the supposedly ‘winterised’ shelters — including those housing women and children — have no heating and are unfit to keep out the rain, snow, and humidity. Last weekend, in light of dangerously low temperatures where the risk of hypothermia is higher for children, three families, including four children and a 9-month old baby, had to be housed by volunteers in alternative accommodation as an emergency measure.

On Samos, around 700 people including young children and other vulnerable individuals remain in unheated tents. The situation for refugees on Lesvos grows increasingly dire. The refugee population living on the island exceeds 6,000, of whom 50% are children living in life-threatening conditions and are at serious risk of hypothermia. Only 130 have been recently accommodated in hotels.

Hence, contrary to the Minister’s claims, the conditions in the camps remain unsuitable, inadequate, undignified and dangerous. It is unacceptable that this is happening when almost half of all the hotels on all islands remain empty and unconscionable that hoteliers remain unmoved, stating that it is not them “to solve the problem.”

We therefore demand that:

the Greek Government takes urgent measures to immediately provide adequate shelters able to effectively protect refugees and migrants from the winter conditions, and improve facilities. This includes the provision of hot water, and reliable access to electricity;
when the existing shelters and facilities cannot be improved such that they ensure dignified living conditions, the Greek Government, in cooperation with its partners, shall urgently provide alternative options for housing, such as hotels or rented apartments; and
the Greek Government, in cooperation with the European Commission, investigates the allocation of EU emergency funding in refugee camps and implements effective oversight.
We would also like to cordially invite:

independent and principled media to question the Minister’s statements and to continue highlighting Europe’s inhumane policies towards refugees in Greece; and
the Migration Minister himself, Mr Yiannis Mouzalas, and all relevant officials to visit the camps of Souda, on Chios, and Softex in Thessaloniki within the next days.
Finally, we insist for a more solidary European response to this man-made crisis. With approximately 60 000 lives affected by the cold, the Greek authorities, responsible NGOs, and European Governments must stop the dangerous blame game they are currently involved in, and must take responsibility for their actions and their omissions to act in response to the urgent needs in the camps.

The undersigned
Action from Switzerland, Chios
Advocates Abroad, Mainland/Greek Islands
Asociación Amigos de Ritsona, Ritsona Camp
Archipelagos, Institute of Marine Conservations, Samos
Are You Syrious, Athens/Thessaloniki
Calais Action, Samos
Be Aware and Share (BAAS), Chios
Bê Sînor — Sinatex Cultural Center, Sinatex Camp
Borderfree Association, Thessaloniki
Catch a Smile asbl, Thessaloniki
Dirty Girls of Lesbos, Lesvos
Echo Refugee Library, Thessaloniki
Everyday, Just a smile, Derveni-Alexyl Camp
Filoxenia International, Thessaloniki
Friendly Humans, Samos
High Wycombe Helping Others, Samos /Athens
Holes in the Borders, Athens
Human Aid Greece, Thessaloniki
Humanitarian Support Agency, Lesvos
InterEuropean Human Aid Association (IHA) — Northern Greece
KHORA Co-Op, Athens
Marlow Refugee Action Group Samos
Mobile Info Team, Thessaloniki
Montcada Solidaria, Thessaloniki
No Tears No Borders, Samos
North Devon Refugee Solidarity, Samos
One Human Race, Athens
100procentnødhjælp Greece
People Street Kitchen, Chios
Phone Credit for Refugees and Displaced People” Greece
RefuAid, Greece
RefuComm e.V, Athens
Refugee Biriyani & Bananas, Thessaloniki
Refugee Trauma Initiative, Northern Greece
Re-Act Scotland, Samos
Salvamento Maritimo Humanitario, Chios
Samos volunteers, Samos
Soul Food Kitchen, Thessaloniki
Team Bananas, Thessaloniki
The Common Good Collective Lesvos
Together for Better Days
United Refugee Aid, northern Greece
United Rescues
Weareonecollective, Greece
Where Is The Life, Lagkadikia Camp
Yellow Aid Truck, Northern Greece
Soup and Socks e.V. / Habibi.Works
Zaporeak Proiektua, Chios

source: Intereuropean Human Aid Association

Meanwhile, the refugees from Vayiochori moved to containers, a Navy ship was deployed to Lesvos to host up to 500 refugees from Moria.

PS the winter is not over.

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