Conditions in reception facilities

Greece

Author

Greek Council for Refugees

Under PD 220/2007, reception conditions should provide to asylum applicants “a standard of living which guarantee their health, covering living expenses and protecting their fundamental rights.”1

 

Conditions in temporary accommodation facilities

However, living conditions prevailing in particular in the sites initially created as temporary accommodation camps in the mainland are systematically reported as substandard and serious concerns are raised by numerous actors in this regard.

During the last months of 2016, efforts were made in order for conditions to be improved ahead of the winter.2 Up to 360,000 winter items were delivered by UNHCR, between October 2016 and January 2017 to asylum seekers on the mainland and seven islands (Chios, Kastelorizo, Kos, Leros, Lesvos, Rhodes and Samos).3 As reported:

“Sites that were unsuitable for winter, like Petra Olympou, Kipselochori and Tsepelovo, were emptied, and alternative accommodation was found for their residents. In eight government-run sites on the mainland, where UNHCR assumed the replacement of tents with prefab housing units, the latter’s number increased from 500 to 745 prefabs, equipped with electricity and kerosene heaters, with a total capacity up to 3,800 persons. In total, by the end of December, UNHCR acquired primary responsibility for making fit for winter 16 out of 46 refugee accommodation sites.”4

As far as overall living conditions are concerned, it has been reported that the winterisation procedure did not always start on time.5 Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) stated that:

“[I]n mainland Greece, it is true that the situation in many camps has improved recently. Beyond these individual improvements, once again, we are particularly concerned about the absence of a general provision for the most extreme weather conditions, which are expected to come, particularly in areas such as Northern Greece and Malakasa where low temperatures are recorder each year. During the last weeks in northern Greece there were camps buried in snow, with ice even in the toilets, without water and heating for days and with acute problems with regards power supply. In Malakasa the same. This situation is far from being characterized as satisfactory. It is a shame that image of the camps.”6

An increasing number of actors underline systematic deficiencies and shortcomings undermining living conditions in temporary accommodation camps on the mainland. A few examples are reproduced below: 

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) highlighted in June 2016 that: “Conditions in most of the reception facilities on the mainland, many of which are entirely unsuited to such use, fall far below acceptable standards in such basic areas as capacity, shelter, food, sanitation and medical care. Again, many children are forced to endure these conditions; thousands of others, again including children, live in informal camps in conditions even more squalid and hazardous than those in the reception centres.”7

The Hellenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO), working under the Ministry of Health, issued an opinion in July 2016 “regarding the situation of the reception centres for refugees from a public health perspective” after visiting 16 sites in Northern Greece. KEELPNO concluded that all 16 centres should be closed. According to KEELPNO:

“[R]egarding living conditions, housing of refugees is taking place in disused warehouses that had previously been used for industrial purposes. All areas are communal and crowded with hundreds of people, without sufficient ventilation, where litter and waste are accumulated, bad hygienic conditions, insufficient drinking water and a variable quality and quantity of food… From a public heath perspective the conditions of the camps is particularly warring. Their selection and placement have been conducted without the slightest consultation of the competent health services.

Long term residence of initially healthy populations in such conditions multiplies the possibility of transmission of food-borne and water-borne and vector transmitted outbreaks and burdens the psychological health of the population and exposes them to a series of danger factors.”8

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), in a report issued in October 2016, stated that: “the reception conditions on the mainland where the people who arrived before the 20 March were moved are no better. The strategy of encampment should be a short-term solution, but due to the acute slowness of the system, we are currently looking at a timeframe where people will be in camps for years. Though the situation differs a lot from one camp to another, most of the asylum seekers are living in appalling conditions, which can be dangerous for their health… Even if some improvements have been observed in the last months, the services in the camps remain sub-standard.”9

The National Commission for Human Rights (NHCR), in a report issued after field visits to 6 reception centres, including Elaionas, Schisto, Skaramangas, and Elliniko, stated that: 

“There are significant differences that entrench inequalities in housing conditions on the accommodation centres. As a general observation, it is clear that the housing conditions that refugees and migrants are facing in accommodation centres visited by the NCHR are problematic or absolutely inappropriate. Only in Elaionas accommodation centres NCHR found relatively decent housing conditions… NCHR states that food provided usually by the Armed Forces, is not always of a good quality… The situation at the camps remain unsafe.”10

In UNHCR’s Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan for Europe (January to December 2017), published in December 2016, it is also mentioned that “open reception sites and urban areas in mainland Greece host around 50,000 individuals; however few sites meet humanitarian standards as basic needs and essential services are not always delivered.”11

The European Commission, in its Fourth Recommendation on Dublin transfers to Greece, issued on 8 December 2016, mentioned:

“In the mainland, while the UNHCR accommodation scheme provides adequate conditions, much of the remaining reception capacity consists of encampments (currently 53 sites are being used) and emergency facilities with widely varying and often inadequate standards, both in terms of material conditions and security. Winterisation of some of these facilities has commenced but progress is slow. Even with improvements, it will be difficult to turn some camps into suitable permanent reception facilities, and there may be a need to close them down, while consolidating others… Moreover, overall coordination of the organisation of reception in Greece appears to be deficient, due to the lack of a clear legal framework and monitoring system, with an ad hoc management of some camps by the Ministry for Migration and others by the Reception and Identification Service. No decision has been taken yet regarding which facilities should be made permanent… It follows from the above that Greece still needs to make progress in establishing sufficient and adequate dedicated permanent open reception capacity for asylum applicants, all of which should be of an appropriate standard in accordance with the EU acquis.”12

Surprisingly, and contrary to the above findings, the Commission recommended that the transfer of asylum applicants to Greece under the Dublin Regulation should be resumed from 15 March 2017 onwards, despite the inability of national authorities to guarantee living conditions in line with at least the minimum standards set in the recast Reception Conditions Directive. This raises an issue under Article 3 ECHR, as was the case under the M.S.S. judgment of the European Court of Human Rights.13

 

Conditions on the Eastern Aegean islands

The situation on the islands is extremely alarming and it has become obvious that the reception conditions prevailing in particular in the hotspot facilities may reach the level of inhuman or degrading treatment in certain cases. As it has been widely reported, the inability of the authorities to provide reception conditions, already from the very beginning of the so-called “refugee crisis”, was filled by UNHCR, NGOs and the local community, which with scant resources immediately proved responsive and made great efforts to meet the needs that had been created on a basic level

As it emerges from the official data, severe overcrowding prevails in the hotspot facilities, as the current number of persons with an obligation to remain on the island due to the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement by far exceeds the hotspots’ capacity, but also the overall reception capacity of the islands. For example, 4,563 persons remain in the hotspot of Lesvos, whose nominal capacity is 3,500 places. In Samos, 1,659 persons are present, even though the nominal capacity is 850 places (see Types of Accommodation: Islands). Many people are sleeping in the open, or in tents exposed in extreme weather conditions, while food supply is insufficient, sanitation is poor and many families have become separated.

The prolonged stay of the newcomers under at the very least substandard conditions results in great tensions among the various groups that are trapped for months on the islands without any an even timeframe regarding their future prospects. This tension inevitably leads to violence and the situation is reportedly aggravated. A number of suicide attempts or even fatal accidents have been reported in the hotspots.

On 25 November 2016, a 66-year-old Iraqi woman and her 6-year-old grandchild died at Lesvos (Moria) Hotspot, when a bottle gas with which they were trying to cook inside their tent exploded.14 In Janyary 2017, three men died on Lesvos in the six days between 24 and 30 January. It is reported that “although there is no official statement on the cause of these deaths, they have been attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning from makeshift heating devices that refugees have been using to warm their freezing tents.”15 A 41-year-old Iraqi died on 25 January 2017 at the Hotspot of Samos.16 A series of suicide attempts have been reported in the same facilities from desperate people.17

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), in its Opinion 5/2016 “on fundamental rights in the ‘hotspots’ set up in Greece and Italy”, includes a list of examples of safety incidents in the Greek hotspots between April and November 2016. This list is reproduced below:





















Safety and violence incidents in the Greek hotspots: April 2016 – February 2017

Date

Hotspot

Incident

6 Apr 2016

Lesvos

A Pakistani man threatens to commit suicide.

15 Apr 2016

Chios

Rape of a 13-year-old boy inside the hotspot.

25 Apr 2016

Lesvos

Riot, with tensions starting in the unaccompanied children section of the hotspot.

26 May 2016

Chios

An Afghan man attempts to commit suicide.

1 Jun 2016

Lesvos

Fire breaks out after clashes between persons of different nationalities. Families forced to flee the camp and spend the night outside.

2 Jun 2016

Samos

Clashes and fire.

28 Jun 2016

Leros

A Yezidi woman attempts to commit suicide.

7 Jul 2016

Leros

Persons accommodated in the hotspot attack police officers,

9 Jul 2016

Leros

Riot, following protest against living conditions in the hotspot, and attack of the Police Director and the Mayor. Clashes with locals

4 Sep 2016

Lesvos

Violent clashes between children in the hotspot. Five unaccompanied children are transferred to the hospital, while others abscond.

19 Sep 2016

Lesvos

Persons accommodated in the hotspot set fire to the camp.

25 Sep 2016

Lesvos

Rape of a 16-year-old unaccompanied boy by four other boys.

26 Sep 2016

Chios

A young Afghan man attempts to commit suicide after receiving a negative decision.

8 Oct 2016

Lesvos

Rape of a 25-year-old Moroccan by three Algerians.

19-20 Oct 2016

Chios

Asylum seekers block the hotspot entrance and protest against delays in the examination of their claims and protracted stay on the island.

24 Oct 2016

Lesvos

Riot, asylum seekers set fire to EASO facilities.

26 Oct 2016

Chios

Women in the hotspot protest against delays in the examination of their claims, and one attacks EASO staff

9 Nov 2016

Samos

Following heavy rainfall damaging their tents and belongings, persons accommodated in the hotspot march on the streets, demanding dry clothes and tents

Source: FRA, Opinion on the hotspots: http://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra_uploads/fra-opinion-5-2016-hotspots_en.pdf#page=40, 40.

Human Rights Watch has stressed in its report on the Greek hotspots that “in Europe’s version of refugee camps, women and children who fled war face daily violence and live in fear,” while the “lack of police protection, overcrowding, and unsanitary conditions create an atmosphere of chaos and insecurity in Greece’s razor wire-fenced island camps.”18

During January 2017, images widely circulated around the internet, depicting refugees in the Moria hotspot of Lesvos trying to survive the harsh winter conditions in their covered in snow summer tents.19

At the same time, the European Commission officially expressed its concern over the security in the hotspot on the Greek islands, regarding staff working there feeling insecure at a time when the prevailing conditions needed to be improved immediately.20 Member States such as Belgium withdrew their experts from the hotspot due to security concerns.21

In its Fourth Recommendation on Dublin transfers to Greece of 8 December 2016, the European Commission noted that:

“In terms of quality, many of the reception facilities in Greece still fall short of the requirements stipulated in the Reception Conditions Directive 2013/33/EU for applicants for international protection, in particular on the islands… The ‘Hotspot’ facilities on the islands are not only overcrowded but have substandard material conditions in terms of sanitation and hygiene, access to essential services such as health care, in particular for vulnerable groups. Security is insufficient, and tensions persist between different nationalities.”22

 

Destitution

Despite the efforts made in order to increase reception capacity in Greece (see Types of Accommodation), destitution and homelessness still remain matters of concern.

As mentioned above, living conditions on the Eastern Aegean islands do not meet the minimum standards of the recast Reception Conditions Directive and thus asylum seekers living in such conditions are exposed to deplorable conditions, without access to decent housing or basic services. For those on the mainland as well, given the temporary accommodation scheme’s short-term nature and due to the fact that essential humanitarian standards are not met in a number of camps, destitution and lack of decent reception conditions as described by law cannot be excluded for the sole reason that these asylum seekers are hosted in a camp. Moreover, according to the available data a number of about 7,950 persons are not accommodated to any type of official accommodation scheme.23

In any event, statistical data on the number of requests for placement in a camp and the rate of placements are not available from KEPOM.

Statistical data from EKKA reveal that, after the closure of the Balkan route, an increasing inability to offer reception places has been observed due to the increase of requests; as noted in Types of Accommodation: EKKA, only 20-21% of the relevant requests for accommodation places were satisfied during the second and third quarters of 2016, while 30% were satisfied in the fourth quarter. In this regard, it should be borne in mind that places provided under the UNHCR scheme are dedicated to specific categories of applicants (relocation candidates, Dublin family reunification cases and vulnerable cases) and thus cannot address the needs of the general asylum seeker population for the time being.

GCR’s findings from the field are also relevant to the problem of destitution. During December 2016 and January 2017, a total 116 applicants have asked for GCR’s Athens Social Unit support in order to find an accommodation place. Respectively, 95 requests for placement have been addressed to EKKA and 21 to KEPOM. Accommodation places were provided only for 8 cases under EKKA and 1 case under KEPOM.24

As also reported, “a large number of asylum seekers arriving from the islands prefer to find accommodation by themselves. Many families are reported homeless afterwards and referred to UNHCR for accommodation solutions. However, unless they are vulnerable individuals, Field Office Attica cannot offer further assistance as regards accommodation to the to the asylum seekers who refuse to stay in reception centres offered by the authorities.”25

In any event, in order for the Greek authorities’ compliance with their obligations relating to reception conditions to be assessed, the number of available reception places that are in line with the recast Reception Conditions Directive standards should be assessed against a total 51,091 asylum applications registered in 2016, plus the number of pending claims from previous years.26

 

Racist violence

As mentioned by the 2015 Annual Report of the Racist Violence Recording Network, issued in April 2016, “recordings of attacks against refugees and immigrants have risen. A significant number of victims suffered injuries, which demonstrates the contrast – but also the coexistence within the same society – between the solidarity that a substantial part of the population expresses towards refugees and the violent behaviour of another part of the population.”27 Similar findings were observed by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).28

In a judgment issued in March 2016, the ECtHR found a violation of the procedural aspect of Article 3 ECHR. The case concerned an Afghan citizen attacked by masked men in Athens in the summer of 2009. The Court found that the Greek Police had failed to examine the case within the context of well-documented racist attacks but treated the latter as an isolated one and thus the case was closed.29

In December 2015, a National Council against Racism and Intolerance was established as a consultative body under the General Secretariat for Transparency and Human Rights.30 The Council started functioning in April 2016.31

Despite the the fact that local communities have generally exhibited solidarity with refugees, incidents of racist violence and tension have been recorded mainly during the second half of 2016. The situation created in particular on the Eastern Aegean islands where, due to the implementation of the EU-Turkey statement thousands of persons are stranded there, has intensified tension and fuelled intolerance among local communities, exposing them to the influence of racist rhetoric and its followers.32 This has equally been the case due to the structural insufficiencies of the reception system on the mainland.

In Athens a squat hosting refugees and migrants in the centre of the city was attacked with Molotov and gas bombs in August 2016.33 Racist incidents in Oreokastro have recently targeted refugee children attending school (see Access to Education).

On Leros, tensions on the island targeted both refugees and members of the humanitarian community in July 2016.34 On Chios, a demonstration against refugees took place in September 2016. During the demonstration, headed to Souda refugee camp, three journalists covering the demonstration were reportedly injured.35 In November 2016, Souda camp was attacked with Molotov cocktails and rocks. At least two refugees were reportedly injured during the attacks, while tents were burned and the camp was seriously damaged.36 On Lesvos, reported members of far-right groups attacked students and among others three women, including one known to the local community for as volunteer, in September 2016.37

  • 1. Article 12(1) PD 220/2007.
  • 2. UNHCR, ‘Shelter struggle in Greece as winter arrives, EU urged to speed relocations’, 9 December 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2gjFZWc.
  • 3. UNHCR, ‘Warming their winter: UNHCR delivers winter items to refugees’, 20 January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2mfbyQl.
  • 4. UNHCR, UNHCR Greece Factsheet, 1-31 December 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2lIobpm.
  • 5. Ethnos.gr, “Ύπατη Αρμοστεία: Τον γενικό συντονισμό για τις δομές φιλοξενίας είχε το υπ. Μεταναστευτικής Πολιτικής και η Κομισιόν”, 26 January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2l2zuo0.
  • 6. MSF, ‘Είναι ντροπή η εικόνα που βλέπουμε σήμερα στους καταυλισμούς για τις ελληνικές και ευρωπαϊκές Αρχές’, 20 January 2017, available at: https://goo.gl/aNqjxx.
  • 7. PACE, Refugees in Greece: challenges and risks – A European responsibility, Resolution 2118, 21 June 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2l2xVqm, paras 5.4 and 5.5.
  • 8. KEELPNO, Opinion regarding the situation of the reception centres for refugees from a public health perspective, 21 July 2016, available at: https://goo.gl/9pzXAM.
  • 9. MSF, Greece in 2016: Vulnerable People Left Behind, 20 October 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2kPfBG1, 6.
  • 10. National Commission for Human Rights, Living conditions in reception centres for migrants and refugees, December 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2lbFT1l.
  • 11. UNHCR, Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan for Europe (January to December 2017), December 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2kqZoEY, 50.
  • 12. Recitals 13-15 Commission Recommendation C(2016) 8525, 8 December 2016.
  • 13. ECtHR, M.S.S. v. Belgium & Greece, Application No 30696/09, Judgment of 21 January 2011, paras 249-264.
  • 14. GR.Euronews.com, ‘Λέσβος: Νεκροί 66χρονη πρόσφυγας και το εγγόνι της από έκρηξη στη Μόρια’, 25 November 2016, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/2fXCROq.
  • 15. Human Rights Watch, ‘Death and Despair in Lesvos: Freezing Winter Conditions Turn Deadly for Refugees in Greece’, 3 February 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2jEWo9k.
  • 16. Eleftheros Typos, ‘Και τέταρτος νεκρός σε hotspot’, 31-01-2017, http://bit.ly/2maGdBH.
  • 17. Human Rights Watch, ‘Death and Despair in Lesvos: Freezing Winter Conditions Turn Deadly for Refugees in Greece’, 3 February 2017; CNN Greece, ‘Chios: Three suicide attempts of refugees in one week’, 27 January 2017, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/2mRDLzf.
  • 18. Human Rights Watch, ‘Greece: Refugee “Hotspots” Unsafe, Unsanitary’, 19 May 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/1OAGq4B.
  • 19. Voice of America, ‘Amid Pledges, Life Remains Miserable for Greece's Hot Spot Refugees’, 8 January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2iRxXnH.
  • 20. ANA-MNA, ‘EU Commission expresses concern over security in hotspots’, 17 November 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2l2Hndi.
  • 21. The Brussels Times, ‘Migrant crisis: Belgium withdraws its experts from Greece’, 16 November 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2lO5Ya7.
  • 22. Recital 12 Commission Recommendation C(2016) 8525, 8 December 2016.
  • 23. Coordination Body for the Management of the Refugee Crisis, Summary statement of refugee flows, 21 February 2017: http://bit.ly/2kGV6Lz. These persons are described as “Self-settled (est.)”.
  • 24. Data provided by GCR Social Unit, February 2017.
  • 25. UNHCR, Greece Factsheet 1 – 31 December 2016, 5.
  • 26. See ECtHR, Tarakhel v. Switzerland, Application No 29217/12, Judgment of 4 November 2014, para 110.
  • 27. Racist Violence Recording Network, 2015 Annual Report, 19 April 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/1sRalS0.
  • 28. CERD, Concluding observations on the twentieth to twenty-second periodic reports of Greece, 3 October 2016, CERD/C/GRC/CO/20-22, available at: http://bit.ly/2cNfGSP, para 16: “The Committee is also concerned at the increase of racist and xenophobic attacks, particularly against asylum seekers and refugees, which is exacerbated by the economic crisis in the State party. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned at the low reporting rate of such crimes, despite some awareness raising measures taken to that end.”
  • 29. ECtHR, Sakir v. Greece, Application no 48475/09, Judgment of 24 March 2016, para 70-73.
  • 30. Articles 15-9 L 4356/2015.
  • 31. Efsyn, ‘Ολοι έδωσαν το «παρών» στην πρώτη συνεδρίαση’, 21 April 2016, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/2l39KrO.
  • 32. Asylum Campaign, ‘No more dead refugees - Immediate transportation of the asylum seekers from the Aegean islands to the mainland for a fair examination of the merits of their asylum applications in a context of freedom and decent living conditions’, 31 January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2lICRF7.
  • 33. Newsweek, ‘What the Greek Authorities should do to prevent hate crimes directed at migrants’, 21 November 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2lyO88t.
  • 34. Al Jazeera, ‘Volunteers leave Greek island after attacks on refugees’, 10 July 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/29DrAPZ.
  • 35. To Vima, ‘Επεισόδια σε διαμαρτυρία κατοίκων κατά προσφύγων στη Χίο’, 15 September 2016, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/2mop6rQ; Huffington Post, ‘Greek Journalists Say Neo-Fascist Party Members Attacked Them During Anti-Refugee Protest’, 21 September 2016, available at: http://huff.to/2ltX14O.
  • 36. UNHCR, ‘UNHCR expresses serious concern over the violence on Chios’, 18 November 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2lcdzvT; Amnesty International, Annual Report 2016/2017 – Greece, February 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2lOqh7e.
  • 37. I Efimerida, ‘Σε αναβρασμό η Λέσβος: Χρυσαυγίτες χτύπησαν 3 κοπέλες σε συγκέντρωση κατοίκων’, 19 September 2016, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/2ltXowg.

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The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti