Greece + 5 more

Vulnerable and abandoned: How the Greek reception system is failing to protect the most vulnerable people seeking asylum

Originally published


Greece and its EU partners are failing pregnant women, unaccompanied children, victims of torture or sexual violence and other vulnerable people who seek protection in Europe. These people are being put at risk by flawed processes and chronic understaffing in EU ‘hotspot’ camps on the Greek islands. They do not receive adequate support from the authorities that are legally responsible for protecting them and are being abandoned in overcrowded camps in squalid conditions. Many people live in unheated tents and do not have sufficient access to washing facilities and toilets, and winter is only making their situation worse.

1. Introduction

When people arrive in Greece and seek asylum, they are supposed to undergo a vulnerability assessment, that includes an assessment by a medical specialist and, if needed, by a psychologist.
This is critical to ensure that vulnerable people – for instance pregnant women, unaccompanied children, people with disabilities and victims of torture or sexual violence – are identified and can access to the protection and care they need.

Vulnerable people should be hosted in suitable accommodation and they should receive the medical and psycho-social attention they need, as well as have access to other basic services. They should enter the normal asylum procedure in Greece instead of the fast-track procedure that aims to send most people back to Turkey under the EU-Turkey deal. In addition, they should be exempt from being put in detention.

However, Oxfam and its partners on the island of Lesvos have witnessed convoluted and ever changing rules and procedures, and a shortage of qualified staff, resulting in a process that has often failed to identify and assist the most vulnerable people. For example, as the last government appointed camp doctor on the Greek island of Lesvos quit in November 2018, vulnerability assessments have not taken place at all for at least a month.

Because of the flawed system, vulnerable people including survivors of torture and sexual violence are being housed in unsafe areas of Lesvos’ EU-sponsored migrant camp ‘Moria’. Pregnant women and mothers with newborns are left sleeping in tents, and unaccompanied children, wrongly registered as adults, have been placed in detention.

The daily living conditions for migrants on the Greek islands compound the challenges for vulnerable people: Moria camp is severely overcrowded at double its capacity, and has often been at more than three times its capacity in 2018. Every year, conditions in and around the camp deteriorate further with the onset of winter because it is not equipped for cold temperatures, heavy rain and snowfall.
While the Greek government is directly responsible for many of the procedural failures and the abysmal conditions in which people seeking asylum on the Greek islands live, European Union member states, too, are responsible for this crisis due to their refusal to share responsibility for hosting people seeking asylum.

Oxfam is calling on the EU and member states to support the Greek government in deploying additional medical and psycho-social staff and experts to the Greek islands to help identify and protect vulnerable people seeking asylum. It is also calling on the Greek government to end the policy restricting the movement of asylum seekers to the islands, which is impeding access to adequate facilities and services on the mainland. Instead, all people should be transferred to safe and dignified facilities on the mainland immediately after first reception and identification. EU member states should reach an agreement on responsibility sharing as part of the reform of the European asylum system.