On the Greek island of Lesbos, refugees and migrants still face harsh living conditions, a year after a fire destroyed the infamous Moria camp, according to a new report by Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees. The two organizations also criticized Greece's treatment of Afghan refugees.
Living conditions for refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos remain highly substandard, according to a briefing released by Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) on Wednesday (September 8).
The two organizations said that extremely high summer temperatures have made life difficult for residents of Mavrovouni camp (also known as Kara Tepe camp or "Moria 2", as it has been dubbed by organizations critical of the conditions there). They also said that women still feel unsafe at the camp at night and that up to 91% of the camp’s residents have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.
While refugee and migrant reception facilities on the Greek islands, including Lesbos, are no longer overcrowded, living conditions there have reportedly not improved significantly, and Greek authorities have been repeatedly accused of illegal puchbacks towards Turkey in the Aegean Sea.
Afghan refugees in limbo
Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees criticized the Greek governments' treatment of Afghan refugees. "While European leaders express their concern for the safety of people in Afghanistan, little concern is given to those Afghans seeking safety in Europe," they stated in a press release accompanying their briefing.
In particular, they called out the Greek government's decision to declare Turkey a safe third country for refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh in June. Oxfam and GCR argued that many of those affected by this decision are people entitled to international protection because they are fleeing war and persecution.
Vasilis Papastergiou, a legal expert from the GCR, said that the June decree left refugees in limbo on Lesbos, because Turkey has been "refusing returns from Greece since 2020."
He argued that "Greece's decision to ban Afghan refugees, among others, from Europe is immoral. Not only does it fly in the face of international and European law, it prevents people from being able to move on with rebuilding their lives. Through a technical manipulation of their registration, these people are denied the most basic help and are thrown back into turmoil."
Mitarachi 'contradicts (asylum) obligations'
Oxfam and GCR also criticized the Greek government's intention to block new Afghan refugees from entering the country -- in particular a statement made by Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi on August 16, one day after the Taliban took control over Afghan capital Kabul.
Mitarachi told state television ERT that Greece "will not and cannot be the gateway of Europe for the refugees and migrants who could try to come to the European Union" and that "We cannot have millions of people leaving Afghanistan and coming to the European Union ... and certainly not through Greece," as reported by news agency Reuters at the time.
This stance, Oxfam and GCR argued in a press release accompanying their briefing, "contradicts existing obligations to welcome those seeking safety."