Greece: abuses against migrants on the island of Lesvos, including pushbacks, arbitrary detentions and violence

Greece: abuses against migrants on the island of Lesvos, including pushbacks, arbitrary detentions and violence

ROME - Hundreds of migrants have disappeared because they were presumably rejected at sea, he reports Doctors Without Borders (MSF). The organization turns the spotlight on the deteriorating living conditions of refugees and asylum seekers on the island of Lesbos, where reports of violence, arbitrary detention of people not yet registered by the authorities and lack of food and water for the residents of reception centres.

The missing persons. MSF teams working on Lesbos are alerted by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other organizations when migrants arriving on the island need urgent medical attention. "There are 940 people who have been reported to us but we have not been able to trace them since we started providing emergency medical assistance in June 2022," says Nihal Osman, MSF project coordinator in Lesbos.

The blackmail of food. Most of the patients treated by MSF complain about the reduction in food rations. The ministry - the organization denounces - is using the blackmail of food as leverage to force people to leave the facility. Other patients have told MSF staff that they were intercepted, often deceived, and then pushed back into the sea during attempts to enter Greece. “When we are told that among the newcomers there are people in need of medical interventions, we often spend hours, sometimes even days, looking for them because they are hiding in the forests,” says Osman. Migrants tell of being deceived by masked men who often pretend to be doctors to gain their trust, but then instead push them back into the sea, as the New York Times also recently documented.

The manipulation of humanitarian aid. In some cases, MSF teams have seen unidentified, unregistered vehicles in locations close to the organization's operations, often driven by individuals wearing black masks. Humanitarian assistance for new arrivals is seriously undermined in this way, partly due to fears of the criminalization of aid. MSF is currently the only independent organization providing support to migrant people arriving on Lesvos.

Access centers closed and controlled. Migrants and asylum seekers arriving on the island are sent to two centres, depending on where they arrive: Mavrovouni and Megala Therma. In Mavrovouni, one of several EU-funded Controlled Closed Access Centers (CCACs), up to 2,700 people were accommodated in 2023. The CCACs were presented as improving the living conditions of migrants, but in fact they were designed to limit the movement of people and keep them locked up in prison-like structures. On 17 May, Greek authorities stopped providing food to both refugees and people denied international protection, announcing plans to evict them. Children belonging to families denied international protection have been deprived of social security and thus cannot receive basic vaccinations.

Arbitrary detentions. In the Megala Therma camp on the northern coast of Lesvos, where MSF teams have been providing healthcare since 2020, the situation is alarming. Megala Therma used to be a government-run center for the quarantine of COVID-19 patients, today the facility houses migrants before they are transferred to the Mavrovouni CCAC. People in Megala Therma are unregistered and are being arbitrarily detained for days, in some cases more than two weeks, before being transferred to Mavrovouni.

Living in Megala Therma. The living conditions in this camp are terrible. Refugees are herded into bedless housing units, sometimes fourteen people are squeezed into a room that could accommodate at most five. Everyone, including children, lives together, regardless of their level of vulnerability and with no regard for safety. The structure is also isolated, which complicates the access of health workers when there are medical emergencies. MSF doctors visit Megala Therma twice a week, but if an emergency occurs on other days, there are no paramedics on site and an ambulance takes more than an hour to arrive. “The Megala Therma camp is emblematic of the cruel and cruel approach taken in the CCACs and supported by EU Member States and funded by the European Commission,” says Osman.

Abuses on land. Things are no better in Athens. NGO Intersos Hellas has published an analysis of food insecurity experienced by refugees and undocumented people in Greece: Being hungry in Europe: An analysis of food insecurity experienced by refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and undocumented people in Greece. The conclusions are based on data collected through the Food for All project, supported by the Greek Forum of Migrants, which aims to meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable groups of migrants and refugees living in Athens.

The results of the analysis. A bleak picture emerges from the dossier for the people who have found protection in Greece. 30.1 per cent of those who have received assistance through the Food for All project already have the legal status of refugees, with all related rights. Most of the people who have benefited from aid, 54 percent, are children, of which 1 in 3 - 23.7 percent - is under 4 years old. 59.4 percent of people access food one to three times a week.

The obstacles to the full realization of rights. The complex and lengthy bureaucratic procedures, together with the application of discriminatory criteria which effectively exclude beneficiaries of international protection and migrants from most social benefits in Greece, hinder equal access to the social assistance system for citizens coming from third countries, denounces the report. In practice, even those who are entitled to social support measures do not actually request them due to bureaucracy.

The renewal of the residence permit. Particularly worrying - reads the report - is the time needed to renew residence permits, which can sometimes take more than 6 months. During this period, access to social assistance, health care and the labor market is almost zero and this creates a vicious circle of repeated exclusion from rights.

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