Refugees and migrants at the Kara Tepe emergency site on the Island of Lesvos, Greece.

Refugees and migrants at the Kara Tepe emergency site on the Island of Lesvos, Greece. © UNHCR/Marios Andriotis-Konstantios

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo  to whom quoted text may be attributed  at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Four weeks after the fires destroyed Moria Reception and Identification Centre on Lesvos, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is reiterating  its call that urgent action and improvements are needed to avoid further deterioration of living conditions for some 7,800 refugees and asylum-seekers currently sheltered in the emergency site in Kara Tepe.

Colder weather and the onset of winter will only bring more hardship for the people there. There are critical gaps in drainage, water, sanitation, hygiene and health services that need to be addressed without any delay.

Heavy rains on 8 October have exacerbated the situation for residents in the emergency site. Some have seen their tents flooded with water. UNHCR conducted protection monitoring visits to assess the situation in the site following the heavy rainfalls and prioritised tarpaulins for people whose tents were affected by the rain. Refugees themselves also found other interim solutions such as digging water channels and trenches around their tents to prevent flooding as proper drainage throughout the site is lacking.

Moria Reception and Identification Centre was devasted by fires on 9 September forcing some 12,000 men, women and children on to the streets. The Greek authorities swiftly mobilized the Hellenic Army and humanitarian partners to establish an emergency shelter facility. Significant efforts have been made by national authorities and aid agencies working on Lesvos. However, living conditions in the emergency site remain in urgent need of improvement.

UNHCR and other humanitarian partners have alerted the Greek authorities to safety hazards and risks in the emergency site, requiring their immediate action. The area is prone to flooding and the current tented site is not equipped to provide necessary protection against the elements and low temperatures.

At the request of the Greek authorities and in support of the government-led humanitarian response, UNHCR is delivering gravel to help lessen the risk of flooding in tented and common areas. As the weather is becoming colder and wetter, we are providing insulation kits, flooring with pallets and plywood sheets for family tents.

However, these are only short-term interventions that cannot be deemed adequate or sufficient to withstand the winter. We have stressed to the authorities that large-scale efforts are required, including to promptly ensure proper drainage throughout the site and ensure better shelter solutions for the most vulnerable people and their families. At the same time, we continue to call for more transfers to the mainland in suitable accommodation.

With the onset of more rains and harsh weather, UNHCR urges immediate action on all Greek Aegean islands. On Samos, where almost 4,500 people continue to stay in inadequate and overcrowded conditions, most sleep in summer tents or makeshift shelters in the woods, outside the reception centre meant to accommodate only 650. Suffering of these people can be avoided, through winter preparations and more transfers to adequate accommodation.

Meanwhile, UNHCR is encouraged by this month’s efforts to decongest overcrowded sites across the Aegean islands, through government-led transfers of the most vulnerable asylum seekers and recognized refugees to the mainland. We continue to support and encourage acceleration of these efforts.

At a time of heightened needs for appropriate housing for asylum-seekers in Greece, UNHCR is particularly concerned about the announced plans to close down facilities on Lesvos island, that have been dedicated to shelter hundreds of the most vulnerable families, women and children.

These include the municipal accommodation centre in Kara Tepe and PIKPA, a self-organized solidarity space. One of the founders of this space received the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award in 2016. Greek volunteer Efi Latsoudi has worked tirelessly to help thousands of refugees arriving on Greek shores,  providing a safe haven for the most vulnerable after they reached land.

Until more comprehensive and dignified solutions are secured, UNHCR calls on the Greek authorities to ensure that such initiatives are in place to provide protection and address the specific needs of particularly vulnerable refugees.

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Originally published by UNHCR, on 9 October 2020.

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