We Came Here for Safety and Survival: Stronger Security Needed in Camps
On Thursday night, July 14, in the Elliniko Camp, a young Afghan lost his life. He was stabbed in a fight which also left two of the Greek Forum of Refugee Community Workers who tried to intervene seriously beaten. We are gravely aware of the difficulties of this specific situation. But this is not the first death of an asylum seeker at Elliniko, nor is it the first incident of violence, and we are struggling to accept that people seeking international protection are dying in a European country’s refugee camp.
The responsibility of state authorities is to ensure the protection of the women, men, and children in the camps, which means providing access to their legal rights and protecting their safety.
While we acknowledge the efforts of the Greek state to open reception centers and allow UNHCR and many aid agencies to operate within these sites, we cannot accept the mismanagement and ineffective policies that have resulted in conditions where violence is common and security is at stake. Current camp management has a lack of appropriate training, unclear protocols in responding to incidents of conflict, and no effective methods for mediation, leading us to urge an evaluation of the criteria used to choose employees. There is an extremely small number of people who make administrative decisions and control access to information in the camps, which results in inefficient work distribution, lack of coordination and understanding of responsibilities, and unclear communication between all responsible actors. The Ministry of Migration should be ensuring dignity and security in the camps so that beneficiaries can rely on them, and aid organizations should operate to support the work of the state and not substitute it.
The Ministry should enlarge and extend its Human Resources and establish clear guidelines and protocols for the protection of camp residents and the aid workers who assist them daily. Conditions in reception centers in and around Athens are deteriorating. With overcrowding, a huge lack of information and communication, and interminable wait times for asylum interviews or decisions, the atmosphere of the camps is one of desperation and despair. Poor conditions and deep frustration have led to outbreaks of violence and riots, similar to what we have seen happening in the hotspots on islands, where violent clashes between refugees and locals have become more frequent. Inaction and indifference of security forces in the camps is apparent, and it has threatened the safety of not only refugees but the aid workers and volunteers working there. Therefore, the Greek Forum of Refugees has decided to temporarily withdraw our Community Workers from the Elliniko Camp, as we cannot guarantee their safety. Community Workers provide an essential link between residents, authorities, and service organizations in the camps, and this severing of a lifeline between refugees and those meant to protect them is an unfortunate but necessary result of the Greek state’s failure to fulfill their international legal obligations.