The statement, which all 28 EU states agreed to in March 2016, was to return to Turkey all new migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands after the agreement entered into force.
In a report released today, nine human rights and humanitarian organisations, among which Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Oxfam, reminded the Greek government that thousands of asylum seekers are trapped on the Aegean islands in deplorable conditions and without access to adequate protection and basic services.
“The containment policy has turned the Greek islands, once a symbol of hope and solidarity, into open prisons that put the lives of refugees on hold for months on end, causing them additional suffering,” said Gabriel Sakellaridis, director of Amnesty International in Greece. “The Greek authorities, with the support of the EU, need to immediately bring refugees to safety on the mainland.”
The “hotspots” on Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros, and Kos, where most of the asylum seekers on the islands are being hosted, still have almost 10,000 people in facilities with a total capacity of just 6,292. The numbers are likely to rise as more asylum seekers take to the seas during the traditional crossing season in the spring and summer months, adding to the humanitarian emergency on the islands.
Many people are still forced to sleep on the ground or in tents not adapted to the heavy rains and cold on the islands. Women and children, who may have already been exposed to violence and exploitation in the countries they fled, face a heightened risk of sexual violence and harassment, amid the tensions, lack of security, and overcrowding at reception facilities. Basic services such as toilets and showers are not accessible to people with disabilities.
“People seeking protection from war or abuse should not feel unsafe when they reach the Greek islands,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Greek and EU authorities should work to restore the dignity and humanity of people seeking protection, and start by scrapping the containment policy, which has caused tremendous suffering.”
Medical professionals in Greece who have interacted with the asylum seekers have said that the containment policy and its effects have exacerbated asylum seekers’ psychological distress.