The Regional Authority of the Northern Aegean has handed Greece's Migration Ministry a 100,000-euro fine over the poor living conditions and sanitation at two major migrant and refugee camps on the islands of Lesbos and Chios. The sanctions come after the regional authority gave the State a 30-day ultimatum to clean up the notoriously overcrowded Moria refugee and migrant reception center on the island of Lesvos - or face having it shut down.
Conditions at Moria camp judged a 'risk to public health'
A report by health inspectors deemed conditions at Moria ''a risk to public health'' and noted a systematic failure to improve sanitation and sewage systems there and at the VIAL camp on Chios. The fines are split, with an 80,000 euro fine for Moria and 20,000 euros for VIAL.
''The decision to apply these sanctions is for the continuous violation of the malfunctioning of the sewage system and the arbitrary flow of urban waste water into a nearby stream, which has dire consequences for the environment of the region,'' said the regional authority in a media statement.
The statement added: ''The continued failure to solve these issues with the sewage systems, the existence of sewage and waste in and around the camps means that they cause environmental pollution and the risk of imminent contamination of the area's water supplies.''
''The heads of the two camps are urged to immediately take care of the implementation of the necessary projects to solve these issues, otherwise, they will be subjected to new administrative sanctions.''
The government has responded through a spokesperson, who told reporters: ''We do not want any confrontations with the Regional Authority of the Northern Aegean; we feel that we all have common goals, that is why we have started to try and speed up transfers of migrants from all of the islands and we are working hard to implement the necessary measures as soon as possible.''
An ultimatum for the government
Greece's beleaguered Ministry of Migration Policy has come under wave after wave of criticism both from the regional Aegean authorities as well as health groups, NGOs and human rights groups for the squalid conditions at the hugely overcrowded refugee camps. On Friday the ministry finally began the process of transferring thousands of vulnerable refugees and migrants from inappropriate facilities to alternative accommodation on the mainland. Two weeks ago the regional directorate gave the state a 30-day ultimatum to clean up Moria after a comprehensive report compiled by a group of environmental and health inspectors from Lesvos' public health directorate, concluded that the camp is ''unsuitable and a dangerous health risk for the public and the environment''.
Among the damning claims in the report, which was sent to the Migration Policy Ministry, the Minister for the Protection of Citizens, the Lesvos district attorney and the head of the island's police department, inspectors stated there is an ''uncontrolled wastewater spill at the entrance of the camp, which flows into an adjacent stream and even out onto the road,'' while it also highlighted broken toilet waste pipes which create a strong stench and which pose ''a danger to public health.''
According to the findings of the report, the mass overcrowding and squalid living conditions within Moria, in which up to 15 people are squeezed into small houses and up to 150 in each tent, increases the risk of disease transmission.
Miserable condition denounced by NGOs
Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF) also urged Greece's government to move children and other vulnerable groups out of the deteriorating Moria camp, adding to the chorus of disapproval as numbers of people staying there continue to increase rather than decrease, as had been promised by the Greek state.
''The site at Moria is now in a state of unprecedented emergency, especially with regard to the physical and mental health of thousands of men, women and children who are living in miserable conditions,'' said MSF in a statement. ''We call on the Greek state to proceed with the urgent transfer of vulnerable people, especially children, to safe housing on the mainland and/or within the European Union.''
At the start of the summer, Greece's Migration Policy Minister Dimitrs Vitsas pledged to reduce the number of refugees and migrants to 10,000 by the end of September, but the region is currently flooded with close to 20,000 people. Despite several pleas from human rights groups, NGOs and Lesvos mayor Spyros Galinos, the lack of government action in reducing the number of migrants on Lesvos means that the amount of people stranded in camps there has passed 11,000.