Of the more than 14,000 asylum seekers currently confined to five Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, many are facing dire circumstances due to irregularly harsh winter conditions, according to a statement [text] released today by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. The migrants are fleeing conflict zones in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and many have been confined for more than ten months, according to the report. A “hotspot” was created in Moria on the island of Lesbos at the recommendation [text, PDF] of the European Commission [official website] to serve as a reception and registration area for refugees, as required by a deal the EU signed with Turkey [JURIST report] last March. The report from HRW says more needs to be done, saying the Greek government should immediately transfer vulnerable refugees to “appropriate mainland accomodations.” During a recent visit to the Moria camp, HRW staff reported seeing flimsy, snow-covered tents, and vulnerable refugees in life-threatening living conditions. The Greek government and the UN Refugee Agency [official website] have been accused of failing to use nearly $100 million in EU funding [EU press release] to “winterize” the camps, leaving thousands to sleep in freezing conditions. The Greek government has responded to the public outcry regarding the conditions at the camps by sending ships to temporarily house refugees, including a ship that was sent after a fire broke out [BBC report] in one of the camps in September.
The rights of refugee and migrant populations has emerged as one of the most significant humanitarian issues around the world. In November, experts questioned humanitarian conditions at Grecian migrant camps when a 66-year-old woman and six-year-old boy died [JURIST report] in a camp fire. In April several aid organizations urged [JURIST report] EU leaders to stop deportations of migrants from Greece to Turkey and to stop detaining asylum seekers. Also in April HRW reported [JURIST report] that the first deportation of 66 people from the Greek island of Chios to Turkey was “riddled with an array of irregularities.” In April former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged [JURIST report] world leaders to accept more refugees and to combat the growing international anti-refugee sentiments. That same month, an independent UN human rights expert encouraged EU leaders to remain steadfast [JURIST report] in their obligations to handle the recent influx of migrants to the EU.