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The Stories of Asylum Seekers Trapped in Greece

On EU-Turkey Deal Anniversary, Greece Should End Containment Policy

Zahra Mosawi, 28, from Afghanistan is trapped on Lesbos, Greece. Despite being a survivor of gender-based violence and in need of psychosocial support, she’s been unable to find help in the camp. © 2017 ZALMAÏ for Human Rights Watch

Deadly, abysmal, dire, fear-inducing, insecure, cold, violent, humiliating, unfair…

I’ve used these words often over the past two years to describe the situation for thousands of asylum-seeking women, men, and children trapped on Greece’s islands. They are pawns in a deal struck between the European Union and Turkey that empowers Greece to try to force most asylum seekers back to Turkey without first hearing their claims.


In this special feature, Emina Ćerimović and photographer Zalmaï investigate the mental health crisis facing asylum seekers on the island of Lesbos.

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Over these two years, Human Rights Watch has gathered hundreds of statements from victims describing the misery of their indefinite confinement. Some of their stories, combined with photos and videos, are featured in “Trapped: Asylum Seekers in Greece.” Here, we take viewers on a journey of the islands though the eyes of asylum-seekers – you see into their lives, their overcrowded and sagging tents, and psychological distress.

Their lives are on hold: Women, men, and children live crammed together. There isn’t enough food, water, shelter, or health care. The state of the few toilets and showers are abysmal, and particularly difficult for people with disabilities to use. Children don’t go to school and adults live out the days with nothing to do. Security has increasingly deteriorated, putting people in danger.

For most, there is no end in sight. Many people have attempted to end their lives due to the distress they experience.

“There is no peace, no safety, no dignity in Moria. It’s worse than jail,” Roula, a Syrian mother of two told me. “We are not treated as human beings.”

Asylum Seekers 3

Tell Greece’s Prime Minister to end the containment of asylum seekers on the Islands by December 21, and call on other European leaders to support Greece in doing so!

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Women and girls say they experience sexual harassment and threat of violence daily, deterring them from leaving their shelters or going to the bathroom alone. They have little confidence that Greek authorities would help them if they report incidents.

On this grim anniversary of the EU-Turkey deal, Greece and its EU partners should work to restore the dignity and humanity of people seeking protection, and start by scrapping the containment policy, which confines people to these islands. It is not necessary for migration control or the administration of the asylum system.

With the EU’s support, Greece should rapidly expand safe accommodation and services on the mainland and create a system to move people there quickly.

For thousands of asylum seekers trapped here, Greece’s beautiful islands are places of misery and fear. No one should live in these conditions. It is time they end this inhumane containment and #OpenTheIslands.

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