ATHENS, Oct 23 (Reuters) - Over a dozen human rights groups
and aid organisations wrote to Greek Prime Minister Alexis
Tsipras on Monday urging him to end the "containment" of asylum
seekers in island camps.
More than 13,000 people, mostly Syrians and Iraqis fleeing
years of war, are living in five camps on Greek islands close to
Turkey, government figures show. Four of those camps are holding
two to three times as many people as they were designed for.
Those who arrive on Greek islands following a European deal
with Turkey last year to stem the flow are forbidden from
travelling to mainland until their asylum applications are
processed, and those who do not qualify are deported.
Applications have piled up and rulings can take weeks. A
recent sharp rise in arrivals has piled additional misery on
The 19 signatories, which include Amnesty International,
Human Rights Watch, the International Rescue Committee and
Oxfam, said the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Kos, Chios and Leros
had been "transformed into places of indefinite confinement."
"We urge you to put an end to the ongoing 'containment
policy' of trapping asylum seekers on the islands ... and to
immediately transfer asylum seekers to the mainland and meet
their protection needs," they wrote.
They described conditions as "abysmal" and said many
asylum-seekers lacked access to adequate and timely procedures
and protection. Some have been on the islands for 19 months.
"Reception conditions are deteriorating, and gaps in basic
services, especially medical, are increasing," they wrote.
Thousands of people, including young children, are crammed
into tents with only a cloth separating one family from another,
the groups said, and conditions were particularly harsh for
Nearly 23,000 people have arrived in Greece this year, a
fraction compared to the nearly 1 million who arrived in 2015,
but state-run camps are struggling to cope with the numbers.
As an emergency measure, the government has said it plans to
move about 2,000 people from Samos and Lesbos to the mainland.
In recent weeks, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) its research
showed a mental health emergency was unfolding in migrant camps
on the islands, fueled by poor living conditions, neglect and
The United Nations refugee agency called on Greece to speed
up preparations at those camps, saying they were ill-prepared
(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Toby Chopra)
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