The U.N. refugee agency warns overcrowding and deteriorating conditions on Greece’s eastern Aegean islands are causing serious distress among refugees, leading to self-harm and riots in protest.
UNHCR reports that refugees from Syria, Iraq and other destitute and conflict-ridden countries are arriving on Greece’s islands faster than the government can transfer them to the mainland for processing.
In August, it notes, nearly 3,700 people arrived by sea – nearly 1,500 more than in July. UNHCR spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly says living conditions are particularly bad for refugees on the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Leros and Chios.
“Many of the people have been staying on the islands for months, and the conditions have affected their physical and mental health. The threat of violence, self-harm and sexual assault is extremely worrying and more security is needed,” Pouilly said.
The agency reports facilities on the islands are seriously overcrowded, and people who lack accommodations are forced to live in containers and tents. Pouilly says on the island of Samos, more than 1,900 people remain crammed into an area intended for 700.
Among them, she says, are more than 600 children, as well as pregnant women, serious medical cases and people with disabilities.
“We are concerned at the growing risks to their health and welfare, due to water shortages and poor hygienic conditions, and we have been providing assistance, such as blankets, mats, sleeping bags and so on. On Lesbos, tensions remain high at the Moria center, which has been twice rocked by riots in recent weeks,” Pouilly said.
The UNHCR is calling for robust action to improve conditions in reception facilities on the islands. It says additional national staff is needed to provide health, psychosocial support and protection of unaccompanied children.