A number of vulnerable refugees are being held in poor conditions in Greece as the European Union prepares to deport them to Turkey, Amnesty International reported Thursday.
“On the edge of Europe, refugees are trapped with no light at the end of the tunnel. A setup that is so flawed, rushed and ill-prepared is ripe for mistakes, trampling the rights and well-being of some of the most vulnerable people,” Gauri van Gulik, Deputy Director for Europe at Amnesty International, said in a statement. “People detained on Lesvos and Chios have virtually no access to legal aid, limited access to services and support, and hardly any information about their current status or possible fate. The fear and desperation are palpable.”
On April 5 and 6, Amnesty had access to 4,200 refugees at detention centers in Moria on the Greek island of Lesvos and VIAL on Chios. These refugees, some who have been detained for a fortnight, are waiting to be sent back to Turkey. Around 125 refugees have been sent in two groups to Turkey so far. Among them were a group of Pakistanis who are likely to be repatriated after the Turkish parliament approved an agreement to send them home. Facing the prospect of deportation and eventual repatriation, a Pakistani man threatened to hang himself in Lesvos on Wednesday.
“I am not surprised by the fact that people who are under such psychological pressure can commit such desperate acts,” Yiannis Chatzidakis, a psychiatrist with a suicide prevention NGO in Greece called Klimaka, told Al Jazeera. “The situation is increasingly becoming worse … so I don’t find it strange that hopeless people with no home are willing to attempt to cut razor-wire fences or even commit acts — irregardless if they have mental health issues or not.”
The Greek army and police patrol the Moria camp and regulate entry and exit. “The camp, which now houses around 3,150 people, is closed off from the outside world by several layers of fencing topped with barbed wire,” Amnesty reported.
One of the most abhorrent aspects of the detention, however, is that the refugees selected for deportation were chosen arbitrarily.
“Only two of the refugees and migrants Amnesty International spoke to were able to show their detention orders based on their individual circumstances,” the statement read. “Automatic, group-based detention is by definition arbitrary and therefore unlawful.”
“I escaped Syria to avoid jail, but now I am in prison,” a Syrian man in his late twenties told Amnesty International inside Moria detention center.
Turkey has so far accepted well over 2 million Syrian refugees. A recent deal between Turkey and the EU sends a number of Syrian refugees in Europe back to Turkey in exchange for financial aid and other benefits. While Turkey was initially seen as a safe place for Syrian refugees fleeing persecution at home, Amnesty International released a report on April 1 describing Turkey’s recent treatment of refugees as “a radical change from those adopted previously by the Turkish authorities during the five years of the Syrian crisis.”
“Serious and immediate steps must be taken to address the glaring gaps we’ve documented in Lesvos and Chios,” van Gulik said. “They show that in addition to Turkey not being safe for refugees at the moment, there are also serious flaws on the Greek side of the EU-Turkey deal. Until both are fully resolved, no further returns should take place.”