Tents in Moria Hotspot, October 2017. Photo: Efi Latsoudi

Despite repeated warnings thousands of refugees will be in danger as weather deteriorates. The Greek government has failed to react leaving people in Reception and Identification Centers (usually referred as RIC or otherwise the Hot-Spots) in the Aegean islands Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros unprotected under restriction of movement.

The geo­gra­phi­cal restric­tion poli­cy, a key ele­ment of the EU-Tur­key deal, keeps thousands trap­ped wit­hin over­crow­ded hot-spot faci­li­ties. Peop­le, even very vul­nerable per­sons, like medi­cal pati­ents and fami­lies with new­borns, have to wait the­re until the first hea­ring of their asyl­um case.

A spike of arri­vals sin­ce August have exhaus­ted resour­ces and infra­st­ruc­tu­re of the recep­ti­on faci­li­ties in most of the islands bey­ond their capa­ci­ty. Con­di­ti­ons are inhu­ma­ne and aut­ho­ri­ties are unab­le to cope. Wit­hin the last ten days the Government has deci­ded to move up to 2.000 peop­le to the main­land in order to ease the pres­su­re. But given the pro­por­ti­ons of the popu­la­ti­on and needs this initia­ti­ve will hard­ly make a difference.

Last year five peop­le peris­hed during win­ter in the hot-spots. Thousands suf­fe­red for mon­ths in the cold and rain. Minis­ter of Migra­ti­on Gian­nis Mouz­a­las has respon­ded to cri­ti­cism by say­ing the­se deaths made us “wiser”.

Con­di­ti­ons in the Greek Hot­spots. Source: rsaegean.org

Win­ter has arri­ved again in the nor­the­as­tern Aege­an islands and hea­vy rain is tur­ning the hot-spots into a quag­mi­re. Mouz­a­las and the Greek government have lear­ned not­hing from last winter’s fias­co and they are set to repeat it. Also Euro­pean aut­ho­ri­ties are indif­fe­rent to human suf­fe­ring in the islands cau­sed by the imple­men­ta­ti­on of the EU-Tur­key deal as long as they deli­ver the deter­rent effect EU poli­ti­ci­ans con­si­ders an imperative.

Refu­gee Sup­port Aege­an, imple­men­ting part­ner of PRO ASYL in Greece, is pro­vi­ding a basic snapshot of the situa­ti­on in the five hot-spots as the islands brace for winter.

Les­vos noto­rious­ly pro­ble­ma­tic hot-spot Moria with a capa­ci­ty of 2.300 is cur­r­ent­ly hos­ting 5.570 peop­le. The total num­ber of refu­gees on the island is clo­se to 7.300.

Accom­mo­da­ti­on infra­st­ruc­tu­re con­sists of 123 pre-fab­ri­ca­ted houses, 100 fami­ly tents, 120 small sum­mer tents (the num­ber is gro­wing ever­y­day) 5 , and a num­ber of makes­hift shel­ters set up by orga­ni­sa­ti­ons or refu­gees them­sel­ves. Very few NGOs are still ope­ra­ting insi­de Moria and limi­ted Non-Food Items and clothes are pro­vi­ded. The­re is often a defi­cit of even basic pro­vi­si­ons like milk-pow­der and diapers.

A lar­ge num­ber of the refu­gee popu­la­ti­on in Moria are very young child­ren and the num­ber of minors on the island approa­ches 1.200. Fami­lies with young child­ren, pregnant women, sin­gle women, and sick peop­le are stay­ing in small sum­mer tents total­ly unpre­pa­red for win­ter. During the first rain in Sep­tem­ber the water ent­e­red the tents and refu­gees were caught in the mud.

Life in Moria. Pho­to: Efi Latsoudi

A 29 years old vic­tim of tor­tu­re from Con­go arri­ved in Myti­li­ni at the begin­ning of Decem­ber 2016. During last win­ter a woman and a small child died in front of her eyes when a gas canis­ter they used for coo­king explo­ded insi­de their tent. The mother of the child­ren and her bro­ther sur­vi­ved with serious burns. She was still living in a tent when Moria was cove­r­ed by snow last Janu­a­ry and 3 refu­gees lost their lives by inha­ling toxic fum­es pro­du­ced by gar­ba­ge they bur­ned to keep them warm during the night. Fol­lowing the­se deaths she was trans­fer­red for a short peri­od to a hotel in Ther­mi as many other Moria resi­dents. After a mon­th when the wea­ther impro­ved she was trans­fer­red back to Moria. Today she lives in a fami­ly sharing a few squa­re meters with ano­t­her 24 peop­le. “Every time I open the door of the con­tai­ner I walk through small tents full of fami­lies with small child­ren. They can’t reach the toi­lets so they enter our con­tai­ner to use the toi­lets”. “When it rains all fami­lies enter our con­tai­ner. They stand up all night as the­re is no place to sleep” she says con­clu­ding “I suf­fe­red so much in Moria. I wai­ted so long to lea­ve the island”.

The inhu­ma­ne con­di­ti­ons and the lack of infor­ma­ti­on about the pro­ce­du­res in gene­ral or initia­ti­ves from the aut­ho­ri­ties’ like the sud­den lift of geo­gra­phi­cal limi­ta­ti­ons for selec­ted num­bers of peop­le have also con­tri­bu­t­ed to extre­me ten­si­on in Moria that often result in vio­lent incidents.

Medi­cal respon­se from Minis­try of Health has impro­ved during the last two mon­ths with 5 doc­tors and 16 nur­ses allo­ca­ted in the hot-spot. Addi­tio­nal­ly 8 psy­cho­lo­gists and 18 social workers work in shifts assis­ted by 3 cul­tu­ral media­tors and 1 epidemiologist.

The iden­ti­fi­ca­ti­on and regis­tra­ti­on cent­re in Vat­hy on Samos, has a capa­ci­ty of 700 per­sons but cur­r­ent­ly hosts more than 2.400. It is loca­ted at a hills­i­de at the rim of the city.

Today, refu­gees insi­de the hot­spot still stay under dete­rio­ra­ting con­di­ti­ons while the majo­ri­ty is try­ing to sur­vi­ve in tents in the woods sur­roun­ding the faci­li­ty. In the majo­ri­ty of cases new­co­mers are stay­ing in the­se dif­fe­rent kinds of tents and makes­hift shel­ters. Lack of hea­ting and pro­tec­tion from the cold and har­sh wea­ther con­di­ti­ons lea­ves them expo­sed. Some refu­gees are try­ing to pre­pa­re for the wor­se­ning wea­ther con­di­ti­ons by collec­tion woo­den pal­lets to sup­port their shel­ters. Among the refu­gees slee­ping under the­se rough con­di­ti­ons are a signi­fi­cant num­ber of fami­lies with child­ren, pregnant women, unac­com­pa­nied minors, dis­ab­led peop­le and peop­le with serious medi­cal issu­es. At the same time the­re is a serious unmet need for ear­ly iden­ti­fi­ca­ti­on and ade­qua­te medi­cal and psy­cho­lo­gi­cal care for the­se vul­nerable groups.

The island rates third in num­ber of arri­vals in Octo­ber. The main natio­na­li­ties are Syri­ans, Iraqis and Afghans. The majo­ri­ty of them are fami­lies but near­ly 100 unac­com­pa­nied minors live in the camp with more than 760 child­ren in total, accord­ing to Samos Vol­un­te­ers. Insi­de the hot­spot hygie­ne is a huge pro­blem as a con­se­quence of the limi­ted num­ber of toi­lets and the regu­lar water cuts.

The bad living con­di­ti­ons have incre­a­sed ten­si­ons among the refu­gees in and around the hot­spot. Dozens of minors hos­ted in one desi­gna­ted space have been repor­ted­ly disper­sed across the camp after esca­ping vio­lent attacks to avoid esca­la­ti­on and are now stay­ing in pre­fa­b­ri­ca­ted houses along with adults or in makes­hift tents. Trans­fer of unac­com­pa­nied minors to spe­cial shel­ters in the main­land can take mon­ths of wai­t­ing. After the clo­sure of the tran­sit shel­ter for minors, which was run by Praks­is until a mon­th ago, only one more shel­ter exclu­si­ve­ly for child­ren under 15 years has remai­ned open.

Espe­cial­ly, vul­nerable per­sons, most of which are fami­lies with small child­ren, have been offe­red shel­ter in flats run by ARSIS and Praks­is in the city of Samos, but the local popu­la­ti­on has beco­me less wel­co­m­ing and flat owners are incre­a­singly hesi­tant to pro­vi­de shel­ter to refu­gees. In addi­ti­on to the flats, MSF still hosts dozens of vul­nerable refu­gees in a hotel in the city. While aut­ho­ri­ties try to deco­n­gest the hot-spot of Samos by remo­ving the geo­gra­phi­cal restric­tion of a num­ber of refu­gees and trans­fer them to the main­land, the announ­ced sche­du­le for the evacua­ti­on will pos­si­b­ly face delays.

Makes­hift tent out­side the camp in Vial, Chi­os. Pho­to: RSA

Chi­os Ρecep­ti­on and Ιden­ti­fi­ca­ti­on Cen­ter “Hot-spot” VIAL is loca­ted 8 km from the cen­ter of the town Chi­os. The cen­ter is loca­ted in a deser­ted alu­mi­num fac­to­ry and half of it is still used as a was­te sepa­ra­ti­on and reco­very cent­re. Under the pre­sent legal frame­work, VIAL is a clo­sed faci­li­ty for the regis­tra­ti­on and pro­ces­sing of the inco­m­ing refu­gees. VIAL now remains the basic accom­mo­da­ti­on cen­ter and has a total capa­ci­ty of 894 per­sons but is cur­r­ent­ly hos­ting 1.944 per­sons. VIAL inclu­des a regis­tra­ti­on area insi­de the buil­ding and two main out­door accom­mo­da­ti­on are­as, sur­roun­ded by a metal fence, top­ped with bar­bed wire. A total of 75 pre­fa­b­ri­ca­ted houses of 30 to 40 squa­re meters sur­face each, with only some beds or mat­tres­ses insi­de, are now home to a sta­tic popu­la­ti­on sin­ce the imple­men­ta­ti­on of the EU – Tur­key deal. Fami­lies or indi­vi­du­als are eating, slee­ping, living in the­re for mon­ths and con­di­ti­ons do not meet the mini­mum shel­ter standards.

In both sec­tions of accom­mo­da­ti­on the­re are pre­fa­b­ri­ca­ted houses trans­for­med to bathrooms and sho­wers sepa­ra­ted for men and women. Still the run­ning water stops from 21 pm to 7 am every night. Lack of hot water and a con­stant fee­ling of inse­cu­ri­ty are the usu­al com­p­laints of the inha­bi­tants. The­re is only one toi­let, without effec­ti­ve access for peop­le with phy­si­cal disa­bi­li­ties in each sec­tion of the camp and no sho­wers acces­si­ble for peop­le in wheelchairs.

The clo­sure of “Sou­da“, open refu­gee camp, tog­e­ther with the incre­a­se in arri­vals sin­ce the begin­ning of Sep­tem­ber led to the exten­si­on of the camp. Thir­ty two new tents were put up in mud­dy fiel­ds. The plan is to replace the­se tents with pre­fa­b­ri­ca­ted houses but the first rains have alrea­dy star­ted and the camp exten­si­on has no pro­vi­si­on of electri­ci­ty or other source of hea­ting, and the che­mi­cal toi­lets are flooding.

Exten­ti­on of the camp in Vial. Pho­to: RSA

Recent­ly the Minis­ter of Migra­ti­on took over ser­vices pro­vi­ded by NGOs. The­re are signi­fi­cant gaps regar­ding deli­very of Non Food Items and basic medi­cal pro­vi­si­ons. NGO “SAMS” con­tri­bu­tes with two doc­tors as the­re was no inte­rest in a recent call from aut­ho­ri­ties to hire local doc­tors. The­re is also a team of nur­ses, a psy­cho­lo­gist, social workers and cul­tu­ral media­tors. But the local hos­pi­tal is over­whel­med with the refer­rals from the hot­spot, and severely dis­ab­led or mental­ly ill peop­le do not have access to pro­per psy­cho­lo­gi­cal sup­port and treatment.

Peop­le are in gene­ral psy­cho­lo­gi­cal­ly exhaus­ted and the­re are many cases of self-har­ming and even sui­ci­de attempts. “During the first rain that las­ted only twen­ty minu­tes the walls and the floor of our pre­fa­b­ri­ca­ted house star­ted to fill with water. We com­p­lai­ned to the aut­ho­ri­ties asking to repair the holes with sili­co­ne but they replied that the­re is no pro­blem” said an Iraqi natio­nal living in Vial with his family.

Accord­ing to the offi­cial data the­re are more than 890 refu­gees in the Recep­ti­on and Iden­ti­fi­ca­ti­on Cen­ter of Kos with a capa­ci­ty of just 722. The hot-spot is situa­ted in the vil­la­ge of Pyli around 15 Kilo­me­ters away from the cen­ter of the city and con­sists of pre­fa­b­ri­ca­ted houses. Next to the faci­li­ty a pre-remo­val (detenti­on) cen­ter ope­ned last March with a capa­ci­ty of 500 per­sons is now used for addi­tio­nal accom­mo­da­ti­on. For examp­le dozens of refu­gees who arri­ved in Cre­te in Sep­tem­ber have been trans­fer­red the­re. In the midd­le of Octo­ber the detenti­on cen­ter hos­ted more than 140 per­sons, accord­ing to infor­ma­ti­on from UNHCR. Refu­gees arri­ving in the islet Kas­tel­ori­zo or other small islands near Kos, have been trans­fer­red to Kos becau­se of lack of shel­ter in smal­ler islands.

The situa­ti­on in Kos is chal­len­ging alt­hough it’s repor­ted­ly bet­ter than in the others islands. While the arri­vals in the past were main­ly sin­gle men from South Asia, cur­r­ent­ly the­re is a lar­ge num­ber of fami­lies from Iraq and Syria. During Octo­ber the­re was a lack of baby food and sup­plies. Local acti­vists and the small NGO Fly­ing Help pro­vi­ded milk and dia­pers to the aut­ho­ri­ties that see­med total­ly unpre­pa­red to take care of refu­gee fami­lies. Local acti­vists are poin­ting out that the­re will be also a need for warm clothes as win­ter approa­ches. Repor­ted­ly some of the air-con­di­tio­ners insi­de the pre­fa­b­ri­ca­ted houses are not func­tio­n­ing due to dama­ge or tech­ni­cal pro­blems. Extre­me­ly vul­nerable per­sons are cur­r­ent­ly insi­de the hot-spot. For examp­le a can­cer pati­ent from Iraq with cathe­ter who has been trans­fer­red by boat from Cre­te. In Kos RIC the­re are cur­r­ent­ly 3 doc­tors (2 from SAMS), 8 nur­ses, 7 psy­cho­lo­gists, 5 social workers, 2 cul­tu­ral media­tors from KEELPNO to sup­port the population.

At the begin­ning of the sum­mer con­di­ti­ons in Leros hot-spots were rela­tively good given a modest inf­lux of new­co­mers. The spike of arri­vals from the Tur­kish coast sin­ce August means that the faci­li­ty is reaching capa­ci­ty limit. Cur­r­ent­ly 826 peop­le are hos­ted and the maxi­mum capa­ci­ty is esti­ma­ted to 880. Peop­le in the hot-spot, among them many fami­lies and child­ren, resi­de in pre­fa­b­ri­ca­ted houses, some of which are dama­ged. Food is pro­vi­ded from cate­ring ser­vices arran­ged by aut­ho­ri­ties and is most­ly arri­ving from the Greek main­land. Imple­men­ta­ti­on of a sta­te pro­ject for medi­cal and men­tal health sup­port has incre­a­sed the pre­sence of prac­ti­tio­ners who offer ser­vices wit­hin the hot-spots (1 doc­tors, 8 nur­ses, 5 psy­cho­lo­gists, 10 social workers).

Ano­t­her 10 medi­cal staff have been allo­ca­ted to the local hos­pi­tal that recei­ves cri­ti­cal medi­cal cases from the hot-spot. The most vul­nerable cases are often trans­fer­red from the hot-spot to alter­na­ti­ve struc­tures admi­nis­te­red by vol­un­te­ers. The­se alter­na­ti­ve struc­tures can accom­mo­da­te ano­t­her 90 per­sons. “The situa­ti­on in Leros is still mana­ge­ab­le. The­re are no peop­le slee­ping rough or without access to toi­lets” says Mati­na Katsi­ve­li, a local vol­un­teer “alt­hough faci­li­ties are approa­ching their capa­ci­ty limit and if arri­vals con­ti­nue ine­vi­ta­b­ly peop­le will have to be hos­ted in tents”.