The Greek chapter of Amnesty International has called conditions at migrant camps on the islands of Lesvos and Chios ''an open wound'' for the European Union and human rights. Concerns about living conditions at the reception centers on the eastern Aegean islands have been highlighted in recent weeks by various human rights groups, amid delays in much-needed infrastructure upgrades and overcrowding.
Mental health cases reportedly on the rise at camps
There are also ongoing reports of a spike in mental health cases among refugees as delays in asylum application processes begin to take their toll. Amnesty International Director for Greece, Gabriel Sakellaridis, recently completed a visit to Lesvos and Chios and released a statement criticizing once again the Greek government's policies.
''The living conditions of the asylum seekers stranded at the Moria and Vial camps on Lesvos and Chios are an open wound for Greece, the EU and for human rights in general; the lives of these people have been put on hold for up to two years, resulting in more cases of distress and mental disorders'', said Sakellaridis. "These people, along with their families, were chased from their homelands and have made an extraordinary effort to live in safety and with dignity. But the welcome received by Europe through Greece was to confine them to the Aegean islands, which have been transformed from solidarity islands into open prisons based on the agreement between the EU and Turkey", he added.
Due to overcrowding, many migrants housed in tents
The Moria camp on Lesvos was originally designed to house 1,000 migrants but is currently hosting nearly seven times that number, while things are not much better at Vial. Due to overcrowding, many migrants are still housed outside in tents designed for summer months which are yet to be upgraded. So far the winter has been mild but a cold snap is expected later this month.
Arrivals have doubled since the summer
Meanwhile, Greece's Migration Minister Giannis Mouzalas has rejected the idea that moving more migrants to the mainland will help solve any problems. "Whoever says that emptying the islands will improve the situation is wrong'', Mouzalas said, adding that moving all migrants and refugees to the mainland ''will simply encourage more arrivals''.
Mouzalas said that migrant and refugee arrivals on Greek shores have doubled since August 20, reaching as many as 180 people a day despite the winter weather conditions. The spike in arrivals on boats from Turkey has exacerbated the overcrowding issues on the islands of the eastern Aegean, and Mouzalas stated that the ministry is ''trying to improve conditions at overcrowded and under-resourced facilities.''
Mouzalas also criticized the European Union, saying that they were actually contributing to the problem by failing to honor commitments with Turkey in the deal which accounts for returning asylum seekers whose applications are rejected, as well as to crack down on migrant trafficking. ''In 2017, we transferred 27,000 people to the mainland and 19,000 arrived on the islands'', Mouzalas concluded.