Πέμπτη, 14 Ιουλίου 2016

Greece’s island refugee camps strain under EU-Turkey deal deadlock


14/7/2016

By Kerin Hope in Moria

Moria is a symbol of mounting frustration for asylum seekers

Under a broiling midday sun, Mohammad, an Afghan refugee, helps serve small portions of rice and meat to headscarfed women and their children at Moria camp. As usual, there is not enough to go round.

In another section of the asylum seekers’ camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, there are several burnt-out shipping containers and a new double-fenced compound for alleged “troublemakers”. Poor living conditions and the slow pace of Greek and EU asylum procedures sparked riots last month.

“The worst thing at Moria is there’s nothing to do — no basketball, no football, no language lessons,” says Mohammad, who worked in a garage in Iran before heading for Turkey and taking the boat journey to Greece. “I play games on my cell phone but some people just quarrel and fight.”

Moria has become a symbol of the mounting frustration of Greece’s asylum seekers, who are stuck in a crisis-hit country with few resources for outsiders, while hoping for relocation to wealthier EU states that are increasingly unwilling to accept them. The EU and Turkey struck a landmark deal in March to stem migrant flows to the bloc — but this has created a further deadlock in Greece, with recent arrivals placed in island camps such as Moria while authorities assess if they should be returned to Turkey.

A four-month campaign to “preregister” the country’s almost 60,000 potential asylum seekers, who live in more than 30 temporary camps, is due to be completed in August. But it is just the first stage in a drawn-out process of examining applications on a case-by-case basis, which is expected to take more than a year.

Moria camp, a former army barracks refitted with steel mesh fences topped by coils of razor wire, typically hosts about 3,000 people living in tents and shipping containers with poor electricity and water supplies. Many of its residents are young Afghan, Moroccan and Iranian men who are likely to be classed as economic migrants and deported.

“The Greek police officers in charge here don’t get the numbers [of residents] right so the caterers bring too few meals,” says Juan Carlos Gavez, a team leader for SOS Remar, a Spanish charity, as volunteers hand out extra bread and fruit to hungry boys in the camp. “We’re trying to fill the gap.”

Moria is a “closed camp” — only a few aid agencies are allowed to work there and visitors are banned. New arrivals from Turkey are normally detained for at least one month in a closed camp. Unaccompanied minors are also held there because of a shortage of accommodation for them.

Angry inmates at another closed camp on the island of Leros also clashed with riot police this week, after a demonstration calling for faster decisions on asylum applications escalated into a riot.

“It’s impossible to set a timetable for completing asylum applications,” says Epaminondas Farmakis, managing director of Solidarity Now, a Greek aid groupbacked by the billionaire financier George Soros. “Many cases are complicated and the Greek asylum service is still desperately understaffed. Meanwhile, we’re seeing dozens of EU asylum officers being rotated out of Greece without being replaced.”

Migrant arrivals in Greece have fallen since the EU-Turkey deal, which called for mass returns of migrants in return for visa-free travel for Turks in the EU’s Schengen zone, provided that Ankara reformed its terrorism laws to meet the bloc’s conditions.

Arrivals on the east Aegean Islands via smugglers’ boats from Turkey shrank to 6,300 between April and the end of June, compared with more than 62,000 in the same period last year.

Yet Greek authorities remain sharply critical of the deal, arguing that Turkey cannot be considered safe for all asylum seekers. Fewer than 500 arrivals since March 20, when the deal came into force, have been returned to Turkey, according to the Greek migration ministry.

One reason is that most of the recent arrivals on Lesbos and other islands are women, children and the elderly, who are deemed “vulnerable” under international law and cannot be deported. They are instead housed in secure accommodation by the Lesbos municipality and international aid agencies working on the island.

“We feel safe here. There are lots of volunteers, activities for the children and English lessons for me,” says Suha Al Najar, a Palestinian from the Syrian capital Damascus, who now lives in a shelter in a disused Lesbos hotel run by Caritas, a Catholic charity. Ms Al Najar, who has four children, says she was attacked on the first night that they stayed at Moria camp.

She worries that by the time her turn for relocation comes around, there may be no places left in the EU countries she would like to live in. She wants instead to emigrate to Canada.

“I just want my family to grow up in a stable, secure place,” she says.

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