The refugee conditions in Greece demand attention and improvement

Paul Hazelton

Winter’s coming, and while that means fresh powder to us Coloradans, it spells potential disaster for hundreds of thousands of people halfway across the globe. Refugees from the Middle East and Africa, where terrorism and unimaginable violence is a daily occurrence, are scrambling to escape. 

Packed in un-seaworthy boats, donning un-seaworthy life jackets, these refugees are making the deadly Mediterranean crossing, and flooding European shores with the expectation of a better life. Unfortunately, they’re finding their expectations unfulfilled.

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Aside from the growing anti-migrant sentiment in Europe, the conditions that await these people are, in many cases, unconscionable. Consider Greece, for example. The cash-strapped country only offers two first reception centers for refugees and, according to Amnesty International, they’re laden with soiled beds, power shortages, inadequate access to healthcare and a lack of staffing. Amnesty went so far as to say that the conditions it found “may amount to inhuman or degrading treatment.”

That certainly seems to be the case on the Greek island of Lesvos, where an estimated 1,000 asylum-seekers arrive daily. The camps there have little to no access to clean water or sanitation. In July, Kara Tepe — a transient refugee camp on the island — hosted only five operational toilets and two showers. As a result, people resorted to defecating in the open and using the already-limited drinking supply for bathing water. Additionally, a lack of supplies leads many infants to be provided with sugar-laced water instead of milk, and new arrivals to sleep in their sopping-wet clothes.

Overcrowding is another problem, and forces many families to brave the elements instead of sleeping inside refugee facilities. Greece’s laws also make it illegal to transport these people in order to get the services they desperately need.

Bear in mind that all of this is happening in Europe, not some third-world country, but regardless, it should not be happening at all. This is unacceptable. But it’s not all Greece’s fault — after all, their economy is ill-prepared to handle such a massive influx of people. Someone should be helping them, so where are they? Where are the NGOs? Where is the UN? Where is the U.S.? Where is the public outcry?

These people and their children have fled horrific conditions amidst the worse refugee crisis the world has witnessed since WWII and made the life-risking trip across the Mediterranean, all while doing their best to evade war and losing friends and family along the way, and they’re to be met with the squalid conditions found in Greece? Again, these people deserve better than this. Organizations like the United Nations, large NGOs and certainly governmental agencies have a moral obligation to assist in this migrant crisis. As previously mentioned, winter is creeping ever closer, and if these people don’t receive the aid that they need, a gross number of them will likely perish.

I beg the reader to get involved, to email their representatives and urge them to act. Donate to the few NGOs that are desperately fighting to sustain these camps, or volunteer yourself. More importantly, put pressure on global charities, governments and wealthy benefactors to act accordingly before it’s too late.

Because if we collectively fail to fulfill our humanitarian obligation, the hell that is the refugee camps in Lesbos and other areas will soon become cemeteries.

Collegian Columnist Paul Hazelton can be reached at letters@collegian.com, or on Twitter @HazeltonPaul.