Political instability in Greece intensifies, while refugees and migrants on Greek islands suffer

Over the summer, Greece has seen an increase in refugees arriving at the shores of Greek Islands. 7,000 people have arrived at the Greek Islands in August alone, bringing the number of refugees and migrants on the islands up to 24,000 people. However, the amount of people coming to Greece might further intensify, as the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced plans of sending refugees to Europe. The situation is expected to be considered at the United Nations General Assembly from September 17 until September 30.

Tension between Greece and Turkey
In early September, several news agencies reported that President Erdoğan expressed a desire to send migrants and refugees currently residing in Turkey towards the direction of Greece. 4,000,000 refugees and migrants are currently living in Turkey with more people coming towards the frontiers of the country from Syria, which has caused President Erdoğan to warn the Europe Union (EU) member states that Turkey will begin to send people towards Greece, if the EU does not provide Turkey with more financial means. This statement has caused the Greek government to react strongly to Erdoğan’s statements, claiming that Turkey pressures the EU in order to gain a financial benefit. Accordingly, President Erdoğan is asking for billions from the EU.

It is still the official policy of Turkey to uphold the EU-Turkey Deal of March 2016, according to the Greek foreign minister, Nikos Dendias. The minister concluded this after his discussion with the Turkish ambassador, ensuring that Turkey will maintain its promise to the EU of ‘keeping refugees in Turkey’ in exchange for financial support. The Greek government has so far dissociated itself with the actions conducted by Turkey in terms of letting people reach Greek shores. However, Turkey has indicated that it has no more means to accept further refugees and calls for other measures to solve the issue.

Bad conditions in refugee camps on Greek Islands
Meanwhile, various news agencies report that conditions for refugees on Greek Islands is at breaking point. The camps are overcrowded with people, who are forced to remain in unsanitary and degrading conditions. This raises questions on whether Greece has the capacity to accommodate more people coming from Turkey. The island of Lesbos in Greece is currently home to 11,000 refugees but only has the “capacity for around 3,000 people”. It is further noted that any medical assistance is carried out through voluntary support on the islands.

It is also reported by Doctors without Borders that children are showing signs of  self-harm, and they warn that some people have attempted suicide. According to the organisation, kids do not participate in social activities and fear for their safety. The safety of particularly women and girls on the islands is also endangered by sexual assault. The violence on the island of Lesbos caused a young boy to die this August.

Possible solutions
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Doctors without Borders, it is essential that people are moved from the islands to safer areas. A spokesperson of UNHCR in Greece, Boris Cheshirkov, states that “[t]he priority should be to alleviate the humanitarian situation, which means moving people out of overcrowded facilities and finding appropriate places on the mainland”, highlighting the urgency of the situation.

The Greek government has been conducting “emergency transfer[s]” to the mainland in Greece to ease the situation on the islands. However, this approach is being highly criticised by a worker on the islands who say that the transfers are only a desperate solution to the problem at hand.

It is expected that the situation regarding refugees in Greece and Turkey will be discussed at the United Nations General Assembly later this week.