A refugee woman with her child walking next to rubbish at the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos island, Greece, 21 January 2020 | Photo: EPA/DIMITRIS TOSIDIS
A refugee woman with her child walking next to rubbish at the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos island, Greece, 21 January 2020 | Photo: EPA/DIMITRIS TOSIDIS

UNHCR is appealing to Greek authorities to increase efforts to put an end to "alarming" overcrowding and precarious conditions for migrants staying on the Greek islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos, and Leros.

UNHCR is urging Greece to intensify efforts to address alarming overcrowding and precarious conditions for asylum seekers and migrants staying on the five Aegean Islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Kos, and Leros in Greece. 

In a statement issued on February 7, the UN agency said it has been appealing to the Greek government to use emergency measures to expedite its plans to transfer a greater number of asylum seekers to appropriate accommodation on the mainland. 

Currently, reception centers that were originally designed for 5,400 people across the five islands are hosting more than 36,000 asylum seekers. 

Alarming conditions on the islands 

On the island of Samos, 6,782 people are staying in a center designed for 660, while others are in makeshift shelters pitched on surrounding fields on a steep slope. The Moria camp on Lesbos is hosting 18,342 people inside a facility for 2,200, and others are staying in adjacent olive groves. Reception centers on Chios, Kos, and Leros are also overcrowded. 

The majority of asylum seekers and migrants are families. One-third of the population are children, most below the age of twelve. Thousands of women, men, and children who currently live in small tents are exposed to cold and rain with little or no access to heating, electricity or hot water. Hygiene and sanitation conditions are unsafe. Health problems are on the rise, the UNHCR says.

Despite the dedication of medical professionals and volunteers, many cannot see a doctor as there are simply too few medical staff at the reception centres and local hospitals. 

Appeal for relocations in EU 

Earlier last week, tensions were high on Lesbos when police faced off with asylum seekers during their recent protest. Dire conditions and the long wait to complete asylum procedures have made asylum seekers afraid and anxious. 

In recent weeks, local communities have also protested and demanded urgent action to alleviate the pressure of the islands. The trust of local communities must be regained through decisive and coordinated government action strongly supported by the European Union. Longer-term solutions and improvement of conditions on the islands are necessary but will only be possible once the overcrowded centres are decongested. 

UNHCR said it remains ready to assist with transfers and in finding quick ways to increase reception capacity. It said it is appealing to European states to open relocation places for unaccompanied children and other vulnerable people and to accelerate transfers for children eligible to join family members.

More articles