Two years after the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement (‘deal’), the very poor reception conditions in the hot spots of the Aegean coupled with the policy of geographical restriction are two of the most important deterrence factors for refugee flows from Turkey.
This period has been marked by five refugee deaths that are closely linked to the miserable conditions in Moria’s hot spot, scenes of snow-covered tents, conflicts between different nationalities or refugees and police, situations that have a huge impact upon the mental health of the already burdened refugees.
Overcrowding is a key problem of all three larger hot spots on Lesvos, Chios and Samos islands that aggravates the already very difficult conditions. Last October and November, around 3,000 people were sleeping during rainfalls in tents at Moria’s hot spot. Also, in January 2018, in the hot spot Vial vulnerable persons remained exposed staying in fields, on roads, or in rub halls without heating because the hot spot of Chios does not have the capacity of hosting the increased refugee arrivals.
The humiliating reception conditions, the lack of an effective system for identifying and referring vulnerable people, the waiting time for the registration and processing of asylum claims, and the entrapment of specific nationalities that in some case exceeds a year, have sparked a climate of insecurity and despair with frequent protests by refugees. These protests often result in clashes between different nationalities or refugees and security forces. In several cases, these tensions are accompanied by disproportionate use of force or ill-treatment by the police. A typical example of such violence was that after the riots in Moria in July 2017.
Refugee women inside these camps also experience a strong climate of insecurity as they live in constant fear of various forms of gender and sexual based violence. In addition, the geographical restriction policy and the insufficient number of spaces in shelters that refugees can be referred to, have entrapped in these conditions particularly vulnerable individuals (i.e. unaccompanied minors, pregnant women, persons belonging to the LGBTI community and victims of violence).
The Greek authorities’ delayed response in transferring a greater number of vulnerable people to the mainland since the end of 2017, constitutes just a temporary solution to maintain the fragile balance that exists in the refugee camps of the Aegean islands. However, such a balance can easily be destroyed if refugee flows increase again suddenly after the end of the winter of 2018.
Among all these, the Greek and European authorities carry a huge share of responsibility for a whole generation of refugee children who are re-traumatised as they remain in such conditions and without having access to one of their most basic rights: education. And all this, in the name of the success of an agreement which in essence has failed.