Fewer Arrivals, but More Refugees hosted in Greece

greece arrivals 2016 UNHCR

UNHCR Figures of Monthly Arrivals to Greece

The EU-Turkey ‘One-for-One’ Deal

Refugees and migrants arriving to Europe will be sent back across the Aegean Sea to Turkey if they arrive after 20th March. Under agreed terms of the Turkey-EU deal, Europe would take in one Syrian refugee from Turkish camps for every one migrant returned from Greece, up to a limit of 72,000. The deal puts Ankara on a fast track to attain: $6.6 billion in aid … ; unprecedented visa concessions for Turks to visit Europe; and a re-energizing of its EU membership bid.

2016 has seen refugee arrivals to Greece continue to drop from late 2015, and the European border appears now to be almost completely sealed. While fewer arrivals may suggest to some that the refugee crisis in Greece has ended, the general ineffectiveness of the EU-Turkey ‘one-for-one’ deal has left Greece burdened with a large population of refugees. [The EU-Turkey deal is currently still active; however, the number of refugees relocated through the deal are negligible to the overall crisis in Greece. On 16th August, 143 Syrian refugees arrived in Germany from Turkish refugee camps, with eight refugees deported from Greece to Turkey on 17th August.]

With refugee arrivals to Greece now diminished, the images of dead and injured refugees on Greek shores feel only like distant memories; the humanitarian crisis now in the hands of Italy and Turkey. However, the refugee crisis in Greece is far from over; in March 2016, up to 44,000 refugees were hosted in Greece, whereas as of 21st August there are 58,380 refugees in the country. The dissolution of centres of humanitarian crises with high media attention, such as at Idomeni, has led to refugees being relocated to government-run camps, and new arrivals mostly remaining at holding centres on the Greek Islands; where refugees are essentially now “behind closed doors”, with much less media scrutiny.

Though the number of refugee arrivals in Greece has now diminished; all arrivals are still becoming trapped in the country, with no options but to stay in Greece, or pay smugglers to continue the perilous journey north or back to Turkey.

Idomeni Before and After

“Out of Sight, Out of Mind” – The Idomeni refugee camp before and after its closure in Summer 2016.

Despite refugee conditions in Greece now out of the media spotlight, serious issues remain and require active Greek authority action.

Relocation of Refugees Within Greece

Greece continues to pursue effective relocation of refugees within its borders; with the refugee camps on the Greek Islands particularly overburdened. While the camps on Greek Islands have a capacity for 7,450 refugees, they house 11,280 refugees as of 21st August, of which 3,800 are said to be children. On 19th August, Interior Minister Panagiotis Kouroumblis commented on the need for refugees to be relocated away from the Greek Islands in order to combat refugee numbers exceeding facility capacity.

“We all know this island [Lesvos], along with other islands like Chios, Samos and Kos, bore the biggest brunt of the refugee and migrant problem. The issue raised is that Lesvos and its inhabitants cannot continue to lift this burden by themselves. Therefore, following the decision of the Central Union of Municipalities, all municipalities, depending on their population, should host some of these people who are today trapped in Mytilene and the other islands.”

Panagiotis Kouroumblis, Interior Minister of Greece

Greek authorities are also pursuing a short to mid-term plan of building new centres for refugees on the islands, in order to increase the Islands’ capacity by several thousand; however, the issue of slow asylum procedures remains.

“We are facing a lot of problems on the islands. People feel trapped and disillusion is growing. They came very close to materializing their dream of reaching Europe but it didn’t happen. We are moving to a decongestion process while speeding up the processing of asylum requests. The new facilities will be better, more permanent, smaller dwellings.”

Anonymous Greek Official

Sexual Assault Crisis in Greek Refugee Camps

The Greek government-run “Softex” refugee camp in Thessaloniki, established after the closure of the Idomeni camp, has exposed a crisis of sexual assaults on refugee women and children which has been suggested to occur in other government camps also. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has also commented that they have alerted Greek authorities of their concerns of sexual assaults in refugee camps.

“It’s really hard for the unaccompanied minors – 16- and 17-years-olds – to survive. It’s the survival of the fittest in there. In the evening and night it’s impossible to find them [children] because they are hiding in the tents. The women are afraid. They complain that during the night and evening they cannot go to the toilet alone. They have all heard of reports of others being attacked.”

Anna Chiara Nava, Médecins Sans Frontières

“It is an issue when it comes to Softex and others. UNHCR has been raising concerns about this, specifically about this issue [sexual violence], saying that we don’t think it will be safe for women and for children. We’ve raised the issue of security again and again. This is a problem; it’s under discussion.