Caritas Europa: Migrants and asylum seekers are suffering severely from Greek debacle
As Greek authorities have no means to adequately address the needs of the tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers that keep arriving in the Greek islands of Kos, Lesvos and Chios, Caritas sounds the alarm about the bad conditions in which these people are living while waiting for the permission to move on to Athens. The state of Greece cannot offer them adequate shelter and access to health. People are setting up improvised camps in parks and other public spaces with nothing more to do than wait and dream of a better future.
Wars, conflicts and persecution worldwide are pushing millions of people to take the road with the hope to find a better life somewhere else. They come from Eritrea, Iraq, Syria, Burma, Afghanistan and many other places where life is more about survival than anything else.
Amir (fake name) is one of them. He is 35 year old and comes from Syria. “I had to escape. They wanted to force me into the military but I am no warrior. I do not want to fight,” he said about the reasons that pushed him to leave Syria. “I walked over 1,200 km. I walked to Turkey and then to the coast where I joined a group of 14 people on a small boat to cross over to this island,” he said.
According to the latest United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’s “Global Trends” report, the world is witnessing a large escalation in the number of people forced to flee their homes. In 2014, 59.5 million people were forced to leave their homes, compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million ten years ago. Compared to 2013 this increase has been the highest ever recorded in a single year.
Many of them, like Amir, are arriving in Greece – an economically devastated country that has recently been obliged by Eurozone members to go further in the path of austerity. This is despite a popular roar against these measures and many warnings from international organisations, including Caritas Europa, that austerity offers no solution and will just worsen a situation that is already extremely bad.
“The situation here is very bad. Greeks are so badly hit by the crisis that they are completely overwhelmed by their own problems and cannot cope with helping others,” says Maristella Tsamatropoulou, Communication Officer at Caritas Greece, and adds, “and this applies for the state too. There are no resources, nor economic nor human, to offer any institutionalised, organised help to migrants and asylum seekers. Migrants and refugees are left on their own and receive the little help that some concerned organised citizens and NGOs can provide.”
More than 70,000 refugees have arrived in Greece in 2015. Deputy Minister of Immigration, Tasia Christodoulopoulou, estimates that by the end of the year the number of refugees in Greece will reach up to 100,000. Maristella has witnessed the arrival of hundreds of people in a couple of days in the island of Kos. Along with Chios and Lesvos, Kos is one of the Greek islands where most migrants and refugees are arriving – over 10,000 of them have arrived in Kos so far this year.
“Their situation is very bad. They arrive, go to the police to get identified and wait where they can,” said Maristella. The identification process is necessary for migrants and refugees to be allowed to travel further to Athens wherefrom they potentially can get to any other country on the continent. This process takes at least ten days. “I have been here for ten days or so. I am waiting for the police to finalise the process of identifying me and give me the papers I need to move to Athens. From there, I want to continue to Germany or Sweden,” said Amir when asked about his next plans.
In the meantime, he stays in an abandoned hotel with other refugees and migrants. They live in poor hygienic conditions with no electricity and no security. “It’s hard here. But I have very little money and have to spend it wisely. I still don’t know what will happen next so I have to be cautious,” he said about his choice to stay in the hotel, and he added, “I had a good life in Syria, before the war. I was working in a hospital as a medical assistant. I had a good salary. Wonderful friends. My family. Now I have nothing left.”
Caritas Greece’s response:
- Caritas Greece implements a dedicated Refugee Programme and a Syrian Progamme, through which the organisation has gained precious competence and knowledge on how to intervene in the refugee issue.
- Everyday, Caritas Athens delivers more than 370 food rations to migrants, offers legal counselling to 19 people and families.
- Caritas Greece, with the support of Caritas Europa, is developing a humanitarian aid programme for refugees in the three most affected islands (Chios, Lesvos and Kos) and Athens, where they all arrive after their identification.