(Athens) – Police are failing to protect people during frequent incidents of violence in closed centers on the Greek islands known as “hotspots,” Human Rights Watch said today. The centers were established for the reception, identification, and processing of asylum seekers and migrants. None of the three centers Human Rights Watch visited on Samos, Lesbos, and Chios in mid-May 2016, separate single women from unrelated adult men, and all three are unsanitary and severely overcrowded.
“In Europe’s version of refugee camps, women and children who fled war face daily violence and live in fear,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Lack of police protection, overcrowding, and unsanitary conditions create an atmosphere of chaos and insecurity in Greece’s razor wire-fenced island camps.”
On visits from May 9 to May 15, Human Rights Watch found all three facilities to be severely overcrowded, with significant shortages of basic shelter and filthy, unhygienic conditions. Long lines for poor quality food, mismanagement, and lack of information contribute to the chaotic and volatile atmosphere in the three hotspots, Human Rights Watch said.
Yesterday I felt like I had left one war only to come here to another war. The fight happened right outside my door. They were jumping on the roof of my container. They smashed holes in the walls. I was very frightened. They were drunk. Some tried to enter the door of my container but we pushed against the door. Thank God they didn’t enter.
A 20-year-old Syrian woman living in a small tent in Vathi said:
Yesterday, a big fight happened. We were afraid. We went to the police to protect us. But the police withdrew inside their compound to protect themselves. They would not let us in. We broke down the door to go to the police courtyard. We knocked on their door and asked them to help the people who were hurt. The hurt people stayed on the ground for two hours before the police took them. Whenever there is a fight, the police stay out of it. There are fights every night. Blood and broken bones.
A 24-year-old Pakistani man who was attacked during the fight said: “It happened because people have been very much frustrated. They are in this facility for two months, three months…. They fight for very small things.” An 18-year-old Pakistani man who was injured said: “I feel insecure here. I was sleeping and people came in my container and hit me with an iron pipe.” Human Rights Watch observed his broken teeth and stitches on his lower lip.
It happened at night three days ago. [He rolled up his pant leg and showed a cut on his leg]. It started with two drunk Afghans who came into this building and they were yelling and we told them to go, but they refused, and then more Afghans came from both sides and attacked us. The two policemen here ran away. They left the building as soon as the fighting started. We went to call the police but they fled the building. About 30 minutes later, a police bus came, but the police stayed outside the camp, outside the main gate; they didn’t even bring the bus up to the building where we were being attacked. We gathered the women and children and barricaded them into one of the office containers. We don’t feel safe here.
All the Syrians Human Rights Watch interviewed who were living on the floor in the converted factory building in VIAL said they wanted to be near the camp’s administrative offices for their safety. Afghans live in containers around the factory building.
Similarly, all the Afghan families and women Human Rights Watch interviewed in VIAL expressed the same fear about fights between Afghan single men and between Afghans and Syrians.
A 27-year-old Afghan woman living in VIAL with her husband and two children, ages 7 and 4, said:
To tell you the truth, with the war going on between Afghans and Syrians [in the camp] I don’t feel safe at all. From the moment we arrived here I haven’t slept well even one night. I am mostly worried about my children. They [the men] fight, they throw stones, windows are breaking and glass is falling down, and they might get hurt. When we were in Afghanistan, after the threats to my husband, I was always begging him that we leave. But now that we came here, I am really worried about our security.
A 35-year-old Afghan woman living in VIAL with her three daughters – 14, 12, and 10 – and her 8-year-old son and 9-year-old nephew, described similar fears: “There are always fights. Even women are getting hurt in the fights and we don’t have men to protect us and we are afraid. In one fight we were inside the main building but outside there were so many stones being thrown that they could kill a human. The situation is very hard but we don’t have another choice.” Her 14-year-old daughter said: “This is not a proper place for women and children. We are not safe here. Every night the men drink and fight and try to enter our room.”
In the Moria hotspot on Lesbos, a 36-year-old Afghan man said, “The food lines are very long. All the time there is fighting. There are fights between the Afghans, and Pakistanis, and the Syrians for places in the food line. Because the police do not help, we have had to come together to try to organize the lines ourselves.” A 22-year-old Afghan man at Moria said, “I spend five or six hours waiting in line for food. Fighting between different nationalities breaks out. The police are small in number. They can’t do anything. There are 40 or 50 people fighting and only four or five guards.”
A 27-year-old Palestinian Syrian man said, “Here the police don’t protect us, even when people throw rocks at us. We line up a very long time for food. There is no safety at all. In a prison it would be better organized than here.” A 26-year-old Afghan man at Moria said, “People are fighting and the police just watch like it is a dog fight. They even clap their hands like it is a show for them.” His wife said: “There is no security in the camp. We do not feel safe here. I cannot leave my documents in the tent, I always carry them with me. At night, men get drunk and abuse people. The police are not here.”
Women and Children at Risk
On March 31, the headquarters of the Hellenic Police issued an order to all police agencies engaged with refugees and migrants that requires separating women and children from men in closed facilities. The directive orders police operating in refugee and migrant centers “to prevent incidents of violence and abuse” against women and children.