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Closure of model camp on Greek islands amidst horrific living conditions is cause for concern

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Greece’s decision to close a good-practice refugee camp must be questioned. The shutting down of Kare Tepe, which functions as an alternative living space, is disappointing especially when the alternative is the unsafe and unsanitary living conditions in Mavrovouni (Moria 2.0).

Nearly 1000 people live in Kara Tepe, a camp with playgrounds, recreation areas for adults and community living conditions. The decision to close the camp was not accompanied by a communicated plan for its residents, some who have already been moved to Mavrovouni in recent days. These residents have been designated as particularly vulnerable – families, single mothers, people with physical health challenges and survivors of sexual abuse.

The closure of Kara Tepe follows the shutdown of PIKPA, a former summer camp that functioned as a temporary home to many people going through the asylum process. It was closed in November last year with many of the most vulnerable residents uprooted and moved to Kara Tepe. Now the residents of Kara Tepe face the risk of being relocated and forced to move to the cramped and crowded Mavrovouni.

Seven months following the Moria blaze, the conditions in Mavrovouni remain essentially the same. Fragile tents facing fierce weather conditions. One in three toilets work. Occasional hot showers. Security is “the only thing better” according to some residents. Yet the step-up in police presence is not very reassuring to others. Stories of harassment and easily accessible tents coupled with the fact that reports to the police fall on deaf ears creates an unsafe atmosphere.

I. Papanikolaou, Greek Council for Refugees social worker on Lesbos, said:

“The security situation for women is of particular concern. Women in the camps say they do not feel safe. Some do not feel safe enough to leave their tents to shower, so instead, they are bathing inside their tents. Lack of lighting, the accessibility of their tents and the challenges in reporting cases of harassment, are among the issues that create an unsafe atmosphere for women. For those who have already experienced sexual abuse, the scant support services and sense of fear can be a retraumatisation.”

The latest Lesbos bulletin also identified an increase in the use of detention-like practices. People are quarantined in theory for fourteen days in the Megala Therma camp. In practice, this period in quarantine often doubles without any clear reason and amounts to de facto detention. During this period, there is no access to doctors, legal aid or any other protection guaranteed by EU asylum law as new arrivals are only registered after their quarantine ends.

The camp’s reputation precedes itself as it is the same camp where 13 people including pregnant women and families were reportedly beaten with batons and stripped of belongings before being forced illegally onto rickety life rafts to Turkey in February.

The conditions in administrative detention are also of great concern, especially the severe impact of detention on people’s mental and physical health. Within a period of one week, two people detained in administrative detention died. One was a 44-year-old Yemeni man who died after reportedly falling ill to a non-life threatening condition. A mere three days later, a 24-year-old man took his own life. He had been waiting to be released after a year and a half of administrative detention but instead was told that his detention would be prolonged.

Oxfam's EU migration policy advisor, Raphael Shilhav said:   

“The EU’s bull-headed policy of detention and containment is resulting in death and despair. This coupled with the closure of good model camps and decision to move people to the dire conditions in Moria 2.0 points at best to a policy of delusion, at worst to deterrence. The Greek government and the EU must address the urgent needs of vulnerable women and men on the islands, rather than duplicate the existing practices in the new Migration Pact. Detention and disregard for people's vulnerabilities cannot be the cornerstone of EU asylum law.”

Notes to editors

  • Spokespeople are available in Athens and Lesbos (English, Greek) and in Brussels (English).   

  • Read the Lesbos bulletin, the April update on the situation in the EU ‘hotspot’ refugee camps in Greece.

  • 248 people are in administrative detention, the majority Syrian refugees and include women survivors of sexual violence. The purpose of the detention is to send people who have a right to claim asylum in Europe back to Turkey. This is despite the EU-Turkey deal being de facto suspended. The conditions are not suitable with limited access to services and people being stuck in administrative detention for over a year.

Contact information

Jade Tenwick | Brussels | jade.tenwick@oxfam.org | mobile +32 473 56 22 60 

Ira Papadopoulou | Athens | i.papadopoulou@gcr.gr |+30 210 3800990 (ext. 102)