Europe’s latest fence

Greek camps for migrants are ap­palling. According to humanitarian agencies, they are unhealthy and offend human dignity.

By Peter Hauff

Greece has been making headlines as a highly indebted EU member for months. Thousands of people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and other countries, however, consider it a door to a better world. Refugees try to sail across the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey in tiny boats. Others come by land. But all too often, their arrival in Greece is only a case of “out of the frying pan, into the fire”, according to Doctors without Borders (Médecins sans Frontiers – MSF) and Pro Asyl, a German NGO.

Those who are not caught by either the Greek coast guard nor by Frontex, a pan-European border-control agency, must expect misery. In Athens and port towns like Patras and Igoumenitsa, some hundred thousands of migrants live without legal documentation. According to the law, only their children get medical treatment. Adults are only entitled to emergency aid.Based on research in refugee facilities in the Evros region, MSF report that health problems – including diarrhoea, infections of the stomach, the respiratory system, the skin as well as mental problems – are wide spread. The conditions, according to MSF, were linked to or caused by the inhumane detention situation marked by overcrowding, lack of hygiene, water and sanitation problems, food quality, lack of ventilation and no possibility to spend time outdoors. Minors, pregnant women, elderly people and those with severe traumas were said to be particularly at risk.

Before the elections in May, the Greek health ministry passed new rules, forcing migrants to be checked for HIV/AIDS and other illnesses, as Apostolos Veizis of MSF reports. His organisation points out, however, that 68 % of the patients only become sick once they are detained.

Migration to Greece is a recent phenomenon. It did not pick up incrementally, but started all of a sudden in the 1990s. Today, almost 1 million people in Greece are not of Greek origin. They make up about 10 % of the population. Some 600,000 are estimated to have come without passports and visa. Rightwing extremists accuse the authorities of staying idle, and the government responded with raids on immigrants and warnings about HIV-positive prostitutes.

The truth, according to Pro Asyl, is that Greece needs EU neighbours to improve their act. Instead of closing borders, Europe should provide a “real alternative to Greek detention camps fast”, the human rights organisation argues. It is in favour of a joint European programme in support of refugees. On the other hand, the government in Athens has begun to dig a new ditch along the 130 kilometre long border to Turkey, and is using barbed wire to fence it off. (ph)

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