THOUSANDS of refugees who have fled to Greece in recent months have been forced to stay in overcrowded detention centres, in poor conditions, because of the deal struck between the European Union and Turkey, the head of Christian Aid’s humanitarian division, Nick Guttmann, has said.
On 20 March, the EU signed an agreement to resettle one Syrian from Turkish camps for every Syrian sent back to Turkey, which is hosting nearly three million people. Subsequent border closures in Greece have left more than 50,000 refugees and migrants trapped in ports surrounding the islands. Hundreds more have been deported back to their homelands.
Christian Aid has previously called the agreement “morally reprehensible”, and possibly illegal (News, 8 April).
Mr Guttmann, who has recently returned from visiting Christian Aid’s partners in Athens, and on the Greek islands of Kos, Chios, and Samos, said that conditions on the borders had deteriorated since the deal came into force; hundreds of refugees who continued to arrive in Greece had nowhere else to go, he said last week.
“The ‘Registration and Referral’ camps being set up on the islands are actually detention centres surrounded by barbed-wire fences,” he said.
“These centres are overcrowded, with very basic sanitation and no proper support — education or safe places — for children. Conditions are awful, dreadful, for families who had perfectly nice lives, a good home, schools; now that is all gone, because they had to run away.”
Christian Aid is working with Orthodox churches in the country, which have been seeking to improve living conditions in the camps. The Greek authorities, Mr Guttmann said, lacked the ability to do this.
The Greek government was also struggling to deal with the number of asylum applicants, he said. “The information circling the camps is not clear, and so people are caught in this limbo.”
The UK Government had provided significant financial support, he said, but must do more to provide safe ways for those taking the “dreadfully hazardous journey, which is unnecessary”, across Europe. It should also take up offers from the Archbishop of Canterbury and other individuals to give homes to refugees.
The Prime Minister announced last week that the UK would take at least 3000 children from refugee camps in Europe, but only if they had arrived before 20 March.
“These people are just like everybody here in this country; we’re all the same, and yet they are being treated so badly,” Mr Guttman said.