12-14 October 2016 Participants A delegation of the EESC Permanent Study Group (PSG) on Disability Rights, composed of Ioannis Vardakastanis (Group III), Bernard Noël (Group II) and Dare Stojan (Group I), visited Greece from 12-14 October, accompanied by the Director of the European Disability Forum, Catherine Naughton, and supported by Valeria Atzori from the SOC Secretariat and Maria Kampouri from National Confederation of Disabled People in Greece (NCDP).
Main purpose The aim of the visit, which was organised with the help of NCDP Greece, was to evaluate the situation of refugees and other migrants with disabilities in the reception structures of Lesbos and Athens.
During the visit, the EESC delegation met representatives of local authorities, international and local organisations and of the Deputy Minister of Migration (Greek Ministry of the Interior and Administrative Reconstruction)
The EESC has already produced a report on the situation of refugees in the EU, (EESC fact finding missions on the situation of refugees as seen by civil society organisations), but the PSG delegation concentrated on a more specific group.
Some facts about Greece In 2015, an estimated 1 million people passed through Greece, but following the March 2016 EU agreement with Turkey, the number of refugees arriving has decreased dramatically.
At the moment, Greek refugee camps accommodate some 60 000 persons. Most of them planned to move to Germany or Sweden, but the closing of the frontiers has turned Greece from being a place of transit to one of longer stays. Schooling and integration are now therefore being discussed and appropriate measures gradually being put into place.
There is no data on the number of persons with disabilities among this 60 000 population. The identification process lacks formal procedures and takes place informally or on an ad hoc basis.
Once identified, children and adults with disabilities are accommodated in open reception centres and with the best possible living conditions, within the limits of the current circumstances. Efforts have been made to make the reception sites where refugees with disabilities live accessible, including their containers, rooms or tents, and also sanitation facilities. However, given the reality of the hilly terrain, remote locations, resource constraints etc., mobility and access are a major challenge. The week before this mission took place, a new programme was launched to get refugee children into school - no special attention was paid to refugee children with disabilities in this programme.
Total arrivals in Lesvos in 2015: 500 018
Total arrivals in Lesvos in 2016: 94 541
Main nationalities: Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis and Iranians
Tuesday 11 October 2016 – Mytilene, Lesvos
8 p.m. Working dinner / General exchange of information with NGO representatives active in Lesvos
Informal exchange of views with representatives from UNHCR and local NGOs (Praxis, Kypseli and Lesvos Solidarity)
Wednesday 12 October 2016 – Mytilene, Lesvos
9 a.m. – 11 a.m. Information meeting with representatives of the Municipality of Lesvos and the North Aegian Region
Anastasia Antonelli, Vice Mayor, Municipality of Lesvos
Stavros Myrogiannis, Coordinator of Kara Tepe Hosting Centre
Giorgos Kampouris, North Aegean Region The island of Lesvos has been in the front line of the 2015/2016 European refugee emergency. Over half of the one million sea arrivals to the EU in 2015 landed in Lesvos. Following the entry into force of the EU agreement with Turkey in March 2016, the so-called hotspots, such as Moria, have been converted into closed facilities for registration and temporary accommodation where new arrivals are registered. The problem is that people are now trapped in Lesvos while waiting for the outcome of their application for refugee status. Greek citizens have shown a lot of solidarity and have given a huge amount of help, but the burden continues to be borne by Greece, whereas the problem is in fact a European one.
According to estimates, there are currently some 4 500 refugees and migrants hosted in Moria, with a further 919 in Kara Tepe, which is run by the municipality and is an open facility hosting mainly persons with special needs and families. The objective is to try to respect the dignity of the persons living there and offer a normal life. Since the initial transit site was set up, more facilities have been built, most of them accessible – again, within the limits of the situation. Every family has its own private house and the centre resembles a small village.
Regarding the presence of persons with disabilities (PWDs), no estimate of the number can be given. There are not many in Moria, with the majority of them housed in Kara Tepe together with older people, children and families.
The situation on the island is critical. Resources and infrastructure cannot cope much longer with such a large population of refugees and migrants staying for the medium-long term. The consequences affect the daily life of the island's inhabitants, tourism, health and social cohesion. There are consequently financial problems and health structures in particular are depleted.
Message to be conveyed to Brussels: The EU must stop talking and take action: there is no more time to lose. Fences are not the solution. The EU has an obligation to live up to its history, stand up for the values and humanitarian traditions it defends and prove that it is not just a union of economic interests. Greece demands that it does not become a place for dumping migrants and refugees. Each Member State should take its share of the responsibility. Local municipalities that know the problem should be financed directly; the budget should not only go to the NGOs, because this means bypassing the national governments, which is a mistake. There is a lack of coordination between the national and local levels.
11 a.m. Press conference
The EESC delegation was interviewed by the Greek TV Channel ERA Aigaiou, and the interview was later broadcast on Greek television.
12:30 p.m. Visit to the Kara Tepe Hosting Centre
Stavros Myrogiannis, Coordinator of Kara Tepe Hosting Center
Pepin Glele, UNHCR, Protection Officer, Kara Tepe
Toulina Demeli, UNHCR
Ilekra Koutsoulis, Doctors of the World The EESC delegation had the opportunity to visit the site, guided by its coordinator, and to speak with representatives of NGOs and UNHCR. This is an open site, with mainly families, children, older people and some PWDs. Nobody could tell how many there were, though, as the identification procedure was informal and ad hoc. Conditions are quite reasonable considering the circumstances and some efforts have been made to make the centre accessible through ramps etc.
The municipal authority is responsible for the maintenance and supervision of the camp as part of an effort to take some of the pressure off the island’s main processing centre at Moria. There are 16 non-governmental organisations operating at Kara Tepe, with a staff of around 25 in total on any one day. Efforts are made to make the refugees' life easier: for example, food is delivered and clothes are given by appointment, in order to avoid standing for a long time in queues. Several activities for children and adults have been organised, including sport, art and language learning (English and Greek). Following the EU-Turkey agreement, Kara Tepe had to change its way of functioning and adapt the structure for long-term stays of migrants and refugees, whereas before March it was mainly a transit place where people stayed for just a few days.
4.30 p.m. Visit to the PIKPA Hosting Centre – Meeting with NGO representatives operating in PIKPA.
Efi Latsoudi, NGO Lesvos Solidarity – PIKPA Hosting Centre PIKPA is an open refugee camp in Mytilene, Lesvos. It a self-organised, autonomous space run by volunteers and is built on the principle of solidarity. PIKPA opened three years ago and is now a growing camp evolving in response to the dynamic nature of the refugee crisis on the island. It is now hosting 97 people, providing them with shelter and hospitality but not registration. The refugees who stay at PIKPA are some of the most vulnerable: disabled, sick, pregnant and the families of victims of shipwrecks. The average length of stay is now seven months. The centre provides food, clothes, hygiene kits and medical assistance. The volunteers also organise activities for children, language classes and social support. When required, they also provide food to refugees at the port in Moria, as well as to struggling Greek families. In busy times, they have delivered up to 2 000 meals a day. They distribute clothes and blankets to new arrivals. They welcome boat arrivals on the Mytilene coast, ensure that refugees disembark safely and transport the most vulnerable and/or disabled to the hospital or camps. They raise awareness and do advocacy work around human rights violations and any acts of humiliation, violence and attacks against refugees. Their work is done with local people to promote community-building and sustainable action. PIKPA works with donations and volunteers, but the centre would like to start paying at least some of the volunteers. There is a full time nurse, and a doctor comes every day. The volunteers accompany people to hospital for medical examinations or to primary health centres. With respect to larger organisations, they are more flexible but nevertheless cooperate with them. The main problems are:
long waits for recognition of refugee status;
long waits for family reunification;
difficulty in proper identification of PWDs, especially people with mental health problems;
lack of specialised support.
6 p.m. Visit to unaccompanied minors' hostel operated by the NGO PRAXIS
Giorgos Spyropoulos, NGO Praxis, coordinator of the unaccompanied minors' hostel The hostel was founded by Save the Children and hosts 20 boys. They are all waiting for family reunification. The length of the waiting time is up to seven months. They are offered various activities, including sport and language lessons, and volunteers stay with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Thursday 13 October 2016 - Athens
9.30 a.m. Visit to the Elaiona Hosting Centre – Meeting with NGO representatives operating in Elaiona This huge open camp is situated near Athens and hosts mainly Syrians and Afghans; the situation of the latter is complicated because they are trapped in Greece as Afghanistan is considered a safe country, and they are therefore not eligible for refugee status.
The site is open and hosts approximately 100 PWDs in a special section of the camp. There are houses, each one with its own bathroom and with beds for eight people. They try to keep families together. Greece has just launched a programme to send refugee children to local schools, but no special care is offered to children with disabilities and there is no knowledge of current developments (consideration is being given to the possibility of sending them to special schools).
12 noon Visit to the Schisto Hosting Centre – Meeting with NGO representatives operating in Schisto This former military base is an open site, managed by the Greek Army for infrastructure, the Navy for food supplies and the Airforce for health. Moreover, UNHCR monitors the work of the various NGOs present (Save the Children, Doctors of the World, IRC, ARSIS, SOS Villages, Hellenic Red Cross) and IOM is in charge of providing information on voluntary repatriation.
The site's basic principles are: dignified living conditions, security and respect for different cultures.
The main challenges at present are: obtaining a broader Wifi connection and setting up a nursery.
It is estimated that there are 10-12 PWDs in the camp.
4.30 p.m. Information meeting with representatives of the Deputy Minister of Migration Policy Office
Kostas Kampourakis, Ministry of Migration Providing access to public health for asylum seekers is a priority, and all refugees have the same access to healthcare as Greek citizens. More support for relocation is needed from the other Member States. Disability is not a priority for relocation in practice, and neither is the fact of being an unaccompanied minor (UAM). Help is urgently needed to bring families closer, to create safe spaces and to provide privileged access to procedures for UAMs and PWDs.
2 500 UAMs currently live in Greece, of whom 1 300 are waiting to for a place in a shelter. As there are no available places at the moment, the authorities are trying to find alternative solutions, such as foster families.
PWDs are referred to UNHCR for accommodation in hotels and apartments, but most structures are now full. No data is available on the number of PWDs among refugees and migrants.
The authorities are endeavouring to create long-term places, with a focus on integration, but if there is no relocation, the structures will be saturated.
The NCDP has put forward a proposal for a specialised support network. There is a lack of specific knowledge on disability. It is important to give support to local organisations that know how the system works.
Friday 14 October 2016 - Athens
9.30 a.m. Information meeting with representatives of the Municipality of Athens, UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and the Greek Forum of Migrants
Xenia Passa, UNHCR
Mariam Hannaralla, Greek Forum of Migrants
Cristine Nikolaidou, International Organization for Migration
Lefteris Papagiannakis, Vice Mayor of Municipality of Athens
Presentation on the Athens Relocation Scheme
Financed by the EU, UNHCR and the Municipality of Athens, the scheme consists of relocating refugees in rented apartments all over Athens. The municipality has 240 apartments housing 1 400 refugees, mainly vulnerable people, Syrians and Afghans, managed by a team of 70 people (social scientists, doctors and apartment supervisors). Coping with medical cases takes 80% of their time. There is a language barrier in the hospitals and a need for translators. Currently, two families with PWDs are living in these apartments, but it should be noted that most refugees suffer from psychological problems.
Article 11 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) must be fully applied1
Need for reliable data on the presence and number of PWDs among refugees and migrants
Guarantee that facilitated and adapted procedures to apply for asylum are available for PWDs
Mainstreaming of disability rights in all services provided (healthcare, housing, education, etc.)
Ensuring that the European relocation mechanism works
Shortening the amount of time needed for screening demands and granting asylum
Shortening the wait for family reunification
Reinforcing the capacities of local authorities
1 States Parties shall take […] all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.