Greek citizens aren’t the only victims of the country’s financial crisis – the cost of this debacle includes thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who are streaming into Greece, only to find there’s not enough shelter, food, healthcare, and even toilets to go around.
“Here I’m really suffering. I’m trying to figure out every possible way to leave from here. I can’t handle sleeping anymore outside like this.”
These are the words of Jad Al Hazam, a 24-year-old Syrian I met this summer on the Greek island of Kos. He was among 100 newly arrived asylum seekers and migrants Human Rights Watch interviewed on the Greek Aegean islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros, and Kos in May.
At the time, we found that the debt-stricken Greek government was unable to provide for the huge numbers of new arrivals. Even the very vulnerable, like unaccompanied children, slept in squalid conditions with no access to proper food or healthcare. Despite the best tradition of Greek hospitality, with locals and tourists stepping in to help, a mounting humanitarian crisis loomed large.
If things were bad then, imagine how much worse it is now.
This week the International Rescue Committee, a group more used to working in conflict zones in the world’s poorest countries, deployed an emergency team to the island of Lesbos. Greece is now a hotspot for boat migration via Turkey and receives more new arrivals than Italy. The United Nations refugee agency says over 90 percent of the 77,000 people who have arrived on the islands in the first six months of 2015 are from countries wracked by insecurity, including Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, and Somalia.
“John,” a 35-year-old Syrian I met at a detention camp in Chios, told me: “Greece is broke and they cannot handle all this number [of people]. It’s really impossible for Greece. The EU should do something for this country.”
Indeed, the European Union can and should do more to help these often-forgotten victims, by agreeing with Greece on a plan to protect the rights and well-being of migrants and asylum seekers there. The priority is to ensure Greece provides adequate reception conditions, and the EU should help give local authorities the means to respond to this unprecedented crisis. It’s also critical that EU countries also agree to take generous numbers of asylum seekers from Greece. EU leaders will make pledges by the end of July on relocating asylum seekers from Greece and Italy.
In the meantime, the true human cost of Greek’s financial crisis will remain unknown until the lives of these abandoned migrants and asylum seekers are factored in.