National Lockdown in Greece: 3 EXTRA challenges faced by refugees in Aegean camps

At 6am today, on Saturday 7th November, Greece began a second national lockdown.

In the past days, reports of rapidly increasing Covid-19 cases across the country has led the government to impose an urgent, nationwide lockdown in a last-ditch attempt to control the virus. The lockdown will last an initial 3 weeks, but many expect it to last much longer.

Whilst populations across Greece - and Europe - face the difficulties of being housebound and unable to travel or work, for the asylum seekers trapped in Europe’s island camps, lockdown brings a whole host of increased challenges.

Here are 3 of them:

1) Delayed asylum applications

Asylum seekers living in island camps are usually undergoing what’s called a ‘border procedure’, a screening process to verify an individual’s eligibility to receive asylum. With huge over-congestion of the camps, these processes take months, if not years.

At this point, thousands of people have been waiting months for their interviews, and after these interviews, for their decisions. Lockdown means the suspension of asylum processing, which in turn means many people who have been desperately counting down the days until their interview are now once again left in the dark. Rescheduling of interviews can take a long time, during which asylum seekers are forced to spend yet more months in the scandalous camp environment.

2) Human rights violations

Human rights organisations have long spoken out about the humanitarian crisis on Europe's furthest borders. The inhumanity that plays out on a daily basis in the hotspot camps in the Aegean is an affront to every notion of decency.

But where in more normal times, journalists, NGOs and the camp community take it upon themselves to denounce this continuing crisis, to share the truth and to advocate for change, lockdown critically disables this essential work.

Without freedom of movement, without the opportunity to reach wifi spots and share stories, the camps - and the violations that occur therein - fall into darkness. We must urgently find new ways to monitor the situation in Europe’s hotspot camps during lockdown. We must not turn our back on vulnerable communities at this time.

3) Winterisation: time is running out

Each and every year around this time, the same thing starts happening. NGOs express outrage at the lack of timely preparation to equip the camps for the coming winter, and they start stepping in to do what they can. This might mean fixing up tents, running extra distributions, moving the vulnerable to apartments. And each and every year, we wonder why nothing has changed for the better.

But this year, shockingly, things have changed for the worse. Unliked previous autumns, restrictions on the movement and activities of NGOs will mean they struggle more than ever to deliver essential winter aid to asylum seekers. As the rains begin to fall, as winds rise and temperatures plummet, who will be in a position to step in to help?

What can you do?

As we approach the coming winter, sign up to Action for Education’s newsletter to stay informed with the latest developments in Greece. If you can, join us by committing to continued support for asylum seekers by setting up a monthly donation that provides education and support on the ground. Thank you.

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