Drawing attention to situation of hundreds of asylum-seekers on the Greek Aegean islands, facing further vulnerability as temperatures are expected to drop in the coming days, the United Nations refugee agency underlined the urgent need to accelerate their transfer to the mainland.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), transfers of asylum-seekers from the islands to the mainland are allowed only after people have completed a registration process or in cases of particular vulnerability.
“Slowness in registration or identifying vulnerable individuals and, previously, a shortage of suitable spaces on the mainland have been factors delaying moves,” Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for UNHCR told the media at a regular bi-weekly briefing in Geneva today.
“Among other things this has contributed to serious overcrowding of facilities built for far fewer people, and increased protection risks,” he added.
The situation is particularly concerning on the islands of Samos, Chios and Lesvos.
The UN agency and its partners have distributed thermal blankets, sleeping bags, winter protection kits and heating fuel, installed electric heaters and insulation, and set up heated Rubb halls – large, relocatable tent-like structures often used in situations of emergency.
It is clear that people would be better off on the mainland and should be moved there more quickly and in larger numbers
“[However] it's clear that people would be better off on the mainland and should be moved there more quickly and in larger numbers,” noted the UNHCR spokesperson.
He further explained that over the Christmas to New Year period in 2016, the agency completed winter preparations for all sites assigned to it by Greek authorities and is finishing additional infrastructure upgrades elsewhere.
In total it has created some 21,000 accommodation places in apartments, with host families, or in other buildings. 700 places have been also found for unaccompanied children in dedicated structures.
Urgency of relocating asylum-seekers to other countries
Also at the briefing today, the UN refugee agency reminded European Union (EU) countries of the continued need to help resolve the situation in Greece through relocating asylum-seekers to other countries.
It noted that as of 4 January, only 7,760 asylum-seekers had left Greece or were scheduled to leave under the EU Relocation Mechanism agreed in late 2015.
“This represents around 12 per cent of the 66,400 agreed and is unacceptably low,” said Mr. Edwards, adding:
“UNHCR appeals to EU Member states to respect their previous commitments and offer additional spaces without further delay.”
Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for UNHCR, highlighting the challenges on the Greek islands