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Lesbos Fatal Blast a Stark Reminder of Hardships Refugees Face in Greece

Greece and EU Should Deal With Crowded Conditions on the Islands

The fatal explosion at a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos Thursday night is a stark reminder of the perilous conditions faced by thousands of asylum seekers in Greece

Asylum seekers stand among the remains of a burned tent at the Moria migrant camp, after a fire started in the camp ripped through tents and destroyed containers, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, September 20, 2016. © REUTERS/Giorgos Moutafis

The explosion, likely caused by a cooking gas container, killed an elderly Kurdish woman and her young grandchild when their tent caught fire, according to reports. A young mother and her two-year-old toddler were reportedly seriously injured and have been transferred to an Athens hospital where they are in critical condition. More than eight camp residents were reportedly treated at a local hospital  burns and respiratory problems and dozens of tents were burned.

Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented severe overcrowding and filthy conditions at the so-called “hotspot” in Moria and other island centers, where people remain unprotected from worsening weather conditions, food is inadequate, and there is lack of hot water. A pervasive sense of insecurity looms over the camp and violence is erupting on a daily basis. Many people sleep on the ground in small tents or makeshift shelters, often using camping gas stoves to heat, cook, and boil water.  

To implement an EU deal signed with Turkey in March, Greek authorities instituted a policy of containment on the islands, with a slow pace of border asylum procedures and limited transfers to the mainland. These measures have effectively trapped thousands of asylum seekers on islands in overcrowded and abysmal conditions while their claims are processed. There are now more than 16,582 asylum seekers on the five main Greek islands that are hosting  asylum seekers and migrants, double the capacity of the camps on those islands. Protests by local residents and xenophobic incidents appear to be on the rise.

Greek authorities should take immediate steps to transfer people to the mainland. The European Commission should support, rather than block, this move to alleviate the pressure on the islands and help avoid more deaths. The Commission should also reconsider a flawed approach that excludes asylum seekers who arrived on the island after the EU-Turkey deal, even if their asylum claim has been deemed admissible, from eligibility for relocation to other EU countries. 








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