AI & MSF: Syria refugees in Greece face lack of ‘humanitarian’ help

Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International lashed out on Thursday at Greece’s treatment of Syrian refugees fleeing their war-ravaged homeland, with many locked up as illegal immigrants or reportedly facing police brutality.

“There is a total lack of a humanitarian response and solidarity” in Greece towards Syrian asylum-seekers, Willem de Jonge, general director of Doctors Without Borders in Greece, told AFP on the sidelines of a press conference.

Greece — a key entry point for the European Union — has often been criticised for conditions in its detention centres, where undocumented migrants are held alongside asylum-seekers without any distinction.

Only a small proportion of the estimated one million people who have fled Syria since the conflict erupted two years ago have gone to Greece.

“There is no reception system (for refugees), no facilities and the accommodation capacity is only 800 beds for all of Greece,” said Ioanna Kotsioni, a member of the organisation known by its French initials MSF.

De Jonge said the health of Syrian refugees, many of whom suffer psychological trauma, deteriorates during their stay in detention centres where they are held along with their children.

MSF said the refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria arrive in Greece either by crossing the river Evros on the northeastern border with Turkey, or via islands near the Turkish coast.

“In Evros, I met a Syrian mother with two young kids, under 10. All she asked for was to go back to Turkey. She had been there in a cell for two weeks,” de Jonge said.

According to data compiled by MSF, Syrian refugees made up 40 percent of all illegal registered entries in Greece for 2012, making them the second largest group after Afghans.

Police in recession-hit Greece said they arrested 7,500 Syrian nationals last year as part of a continuing crackdown on illegal immigration, according to MSF.

“In camps, in Jordan or in Turkey, the sanitary conditions may be difficult… but at least they are free to move around,” said de Jonge.

The Greek branch of Amnesty also called Thursday for an urgent investigation into allegations of ill-treatment by police at a detention facility for refugees and immigrants in Corinth, southern Greece.

Amnesty also cited the case of a Syrian who complained about police brutality while he was detained in a police station in the nearby city of Tripoli.

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... is like a “paper boat”. We chose this as a metaphor for what we want to create and for the situation of refugees and migrants in Greece. The paper boat is a folded boat able to swim – for a while. Then you have to build a new one to go on travelling. A paper boat is symbolic for the journey of life, vulnerable but in your own hands and to be recreated again and again. It is simple, but it carries many hopes and dreams. It can dance on a turbulent sea. It belongs to everybody. And it might become the small version – like a first draft – of a welcome-space.

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