Inadequate shelter, freezing weather, and exploitation: the reality for thousands of refugees

A heartbreaking new article, by Yiannis Baboulias for the New Statesman, details the reality faced by thousands of refugees in Greece this winter: not just one of inadequate shelter and freezing weather, but also of exploitation and rights abuses – and little prospect of change to the situation.


The situation on Lesvos, for example, is particularly acute. More than 7, 000 refugees are currently living in Moria camp – a facility designed for just 1, 800. While an emergency decongestion plan has been announced, arrivals continue to exceed the number of relocations. “They are trying to turn the island into Greece’s Guantanamo,” said the mayor of Mytilene, the capital of Lesvos.


But the situation remains dire across other islands, too, and the comparison to Guatanamo refers to more than just the crowded facilities.


Baboulias reported that “recently, a nine-year-old from Afghanistan tried to commit suicide on Chios, another Greek island. The doctors treating him suspected he had been abused inside the camp. It’s no surprise. Médecins Sans Frontières Greece said that ‘in our clinic in Lesvos, we have at least ten people per day who have self-harmed or attempted suicide. The situation in the islands is beyond desperate.’”


Baboulias’ article also shone a light on the grim reality of sexual exploitation faced by child refugees on mainland Greece. He details an evening in Pedion Tou Areos, a park in Athens, where it can cost as little as 10€ for “a session in the park’s bushes with kids as young as 14.” Such crimes are not new: “the faces change,” writes Baboulias, “but the situation remains the same – or worse.”


Exploitation is the under-reported accompaniment to the refugee crisis, and exists at each stage of the journey – and in all forms. The situation detailed by Baboulias is far from unusual, and it is not restricted to Greece.


A recent, shocking report by UNHCR revealed the extent of sexual violence suffered by men and boys both within Syria, and in countries of asylum. This adds to numerous reports by other agencies that have detailed the exploitation suffered by refugees – of all ages and genders – in countries of origin and conflict situations, transitional countries, camps and countries of asylum.


The current refugee crisis cannot be reduced to a question of immigration. It is a humanitarian emergency, which continues to expose people to grave rights violations as they flee conflict and persecution.


As the UNHCR High Commissioner’s Dialogue on Protection Challenges meets today in Geneva, it must be recalled that any response to the current crisis must be based on a sensitive, co-operative and holistic assessment of the risks faced by refugees – at all stages of their journey.


Help Refugees supports refugees across Greece, both on the islands and the mainland. As the cold weather sets in, needs are only increasing. Please, if you are able, donate here. We couldn’t do what we do without people like you.