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AYS Special from Greece: Still time to prevent another ‘winter emergency’

As winter approaches we bring you voices from Lesvos, Chios and Samos as well as updates from the mainland camps. As we see every year, preparation is insufficient or non-existent, and although some people have been able to leave the islands, being homeless in Athens or sleeping in a tent on the outskirts of a mainland camp, does not make you any safer.

(Photo Credit: Refugee Biriyani & Bananas Chios Winter 2020)

Lesvos

Once more I want to say to the EU politicians to stop this dirty game with the lives of humans and eliminate these refugee camps.

Residents of Moria 2 report that IOM has not provided any winter protection, and although camp authorities are moving some people from tents to containers, there are not enough containers for everybody.

It is heavy raining for a couple of weeks, the weather is cold and always windy with no heating source yet. Lack of electricity and warming. Just one NGO distributed some blankets to the people.

(Photo Credit: Anonymous)

There are still around three thousand people in the camp, mostly families.

No one was expected to be stuck for one more winter in this horrible condition, with comparing with last year the good thing is that around 7000 people being released from here and went to the mainland and mostly to the other EU countries.

(Photo Credit: Moria White Helmets)

Self-organised groups from the camp including the Moria Corona Awareness Team and the Moria White Helmets are still active in providing basic services such as waste management, plastic recycling, education and clothes distribution while dealing with their own asylum claims and looking after their families. In general, these groups receive less support because they are not NGOs, but are happy to work together and with the Greek community. Despite their best efforts, however, concerns about the coming winter remain.

The big problem in this winter, similar with last winter — inhumane living conditions — living in the tents and freezing, because still there is no heating source and we have electricity only few hours a day.

Chios

(Photo Credit: Refugee Biriyani & Bananas Chios Winter 2020)

One lady told me her child was scared in the tent and it moves with the wind

Ruhi Loren Akhtar of Refugee Biriyani & Bananas (RBB), is in Chios. Official figures are never accurate, but they estimate that 200 people arrived over the last two months, “based on people in quarantine and those that come out.”

People in camp are saying they are cold. They asked us for electric heaters but I am unsure if we can distribute them due to funds and resources. And also in previous years we never could distribute these as over loading of electric which was already happening due to too many people being in camp meant it used to go out. I have asked the official organisations but got no response

In Vial camp, some people are still living in tents, including families with children and babies. Many people, having already received their refugee status, live with no cash allowance.

Winter after winter, needs do not change, and still little to nothing is being done by the island’s authorities. RBB has been asked for materials to secure and waterproof leaking rooftops in shelters and communal structures in the camp, for warm clothes, sleeping bags and raincoats, and they distributed what they could. Another organisation is also distributing winter clothes, but as always, it will not be enough.

Lack of food is a big issue and people are always grateful for our food distributions but it is never enough. During winter, when it’s colder and the immune system is already down, food insecurity leads to further negative consequences on physical and mental health, especially as displaced people are living in poor conditions

Samos

(Photo Credit: Samos Advocacy Collective)

On Samos, while the new Closed and Controlled MPRIC does offer containers, its positioning means it is bleak, foggy and prone to flooding. It is not possible to easily share photos of this as in our dystopian present, people who live there fear punishment if they are critical of their living situation. It is also extremely isolated. For the last three weeks many residents have been unable to leave. In early December, a group of organisations working on the island wrote a public letter to Greek authorities on the restrictions imposed in the new camp if they have received a second rejection or before they receive their white card. As the weather worsens, for these people there will be no escape.

Researcher Gemma Bird points out that “every winter the problems caused by the weather conditions on the island of Samos seem to be the same, and the Government preparation for them are always lacking.”

In January 2019 we saw extreme storms leading to damaged and flooded shelters, people soaking wet and unable to get dry. At this time on the island there were less NGOs able to fill the gaps left by the state. People without suitable winter shoes found themselves taking off their socks because otherwise they were impossible to keep dry. There was a lack of waterproof clothing and people asking for plastic rain coats. There was many rats in the ‘jungle’ area with people getting bitten as they tried to sleep. In 2020 as the overcrowding got worse the situation also got worse. Then in the early months of 2021 the temperatures dropped so low that it was unsafe for people to stay in self built shelters and tents in the jungle with no heating and NGOs negotiated with the camp to be able to open up centres to provide space for the most vulnerable. For the last few years the weather conditions have been predictable but the Government have never properly prepared for them.

Samos Advocacy Collective stress that the new camp floods every time it rains as it lacks a proper drainage system. The only laundry service is provided by Movement on the Ground. There is no dryer or place to dry clothes. Samos Volunteers also have a laundry service, but it is in Vathy, very far from the new camp and inaccessible to people who are not allowed to leave.

“It’s crazy that the EU has invested so much money in this camp but they can’t even provide a laundry service which is a basic need.”

Mainland

Last year, mainland camps did not fare well and for most nothing has changed. By February, Malakasa became unliveable by most people’s standards.

Camps around Athens have undergone a process of “modernisation”, to use official terms. This has meant that a number of camps have been closed and others expanded. Also, a lot of money is being spent on increasing control over the entry and exit to and from the camps. In both Ritsona and Malakasa 1, the two largest camps in the area, walls have replaced metal fences and turnstiles have been brought in, even if not installed yet.

Echo Library, a grass roots group who bring books to these camps on a weekly basis, state that little to nothing seems to have been done in terms of winterisation.

While most people do live in containers, in Malakasa 1 many people are still living in tents, crammed inside a larger tent which used to be a communal space.

Other people, including those with refugee status, are currently homeless due to a lack on financial support or the integration which would support them into the job market. Lighthouse Relief, who have been running a street outreach programme for the last 12 months report that they have supported 4,044 people, including 1,497 children, who are either homeless or in a precarious living situation in the capital.

As temperatures continue to drop throughout Greece and another winter looms, there is still time to improve conditions for thousands of people who will be forced to spend this winter in camps or on the street. Winter is an annual occurrence and it should not turn, once again, into another emergency.

Article by Emma Musty, AYS

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Are You Syrious?

Are You Syrious?

Daily news digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and refugees on the route, but also for journalists and other parties.