by Rowan Simpson The humanitarian crisis on the Aegean islands to continue as EU funding announced for construction of five new refugee camps
This week, EU Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, visited asylum-seeker facilities on the Greek islands of Lesvos and Samos. She arrived on Lesvos on Monday morning by helicopter to visit the Mavrovouni campsite, accompanied by the Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, before visiting the new campsite at Zervou, Samos. Meetings were held with local officials on each island, to discuss plans for the construction of the new camps.
During the visit, it was announced that the EU is to provide €250 million in funding to Greece to build five new structures on the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros to house asylum seekers and refugees. The construction of these new camps has been widely criticised by human rights groups and protested against by island locals. A large group of protestors gathered outside the town hall in the Lesvos capital to oppose Johansson’s visit, calling for Europe to take responsibility and put an end to the construction of inhumane camps across the Aegean.
Whilst discussing the decision to construct the new camps, Johansson stated that ‘even if you are not eligible to stay in Greece you are a human being - you have rights and dignity and should be treated accordingly.' However, despite promises of ‘dignified’ and ‘humane’ living conditions, the new structures are to take the form of closed controlled camps in rural parts of the islands. The camps will be surrounded by military-style fences to allow for ‘effective guarding and patrolling’ and residents will be under constant surveillance by internal surveillance cameras. The design and location of each of the new camps will limit asylum seekers’ mobility and access to essential services, forcing residents to live in prison-like conditions.
Greek government representatives have also announced that there will no longer be a need for NGOs to provide essential services in the new camps, as a wide range of services - such as education, vocational training, and access to medical care - will be available to residents. However, the sustained provision of essential services by local service providers is not feasible, as is seen in the current hotspot camps, where NGOs bear the brunt of responsibility for providing essential services. Matthias Mertens, Europe Must Act co-founder, argues that the new camps ‘will curtail the agency of refugees, while also diminishing the ability of NGOs to provide essential services, both are vital to guarantee humane and dignified living conditions.
Although the camps are presented by Greek and EU policy-makers as a solution to the protracted humanitarian crisis that has unfolded in the Aegean over the last six years, the continued use of containment policies will instead threaten and compound the suffering experienced by those arriving on the Aegean islands in an attempt to reach safety. The closed nature of the camps also creates an environment in which a lack of accountability exists, which could lead to an increase in human rights violations inside the camps.
In response to the news, Stephan Oberreit, Médecins Sans Frontières’ head of mission in Greece, stated: ‘Thousands of men, women and children continue to suffer every day in Europe’s camps in Samos and Lesbos… We have said it several times: continuing to clone and repackage the containment model is the best recipe for a catastrophe. It is time to demand dignified alternatives to camps and access to a fair and dignified asylum procedure, otherwise, those seeking safety in Europe will continue to suffer.’
We know that camps are not the solution to ending the humanitarian crisis occurring on the Aegean islands, yet the EU and Greek government continue to favour inhumane policies of deterrence, detention and deportation, over the implementation of fair and humane alternatives, such as the use of dignified accommodation on the islands and the fair relocation of refugees and asylum seekers across European cities. It is vital that real attempts are made by policy-makers at both national and international levels to put an end to the protracted crisis occurring on Europe’s borders, by implementing policies that uphold human rights and dignity for those seeking asylum.
For more information on the MPRIC’s or new camps read our No More Camps report here.