The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is calling on the Greek government to urgently improve conditions and expand reception capacity in the north east, following a recent rise in arrivals in the Evros area across the land border with Turkey.
Some 2,900 people have arrived in Evros so far this month, mainly Syrian and Iraqi families. This is equivalent to half the estimated arrivals for all of 2017. According to figures compiled by the UNHCR, in April land arrivals outnumbered sea arrivals.
Speaking in the Greek parliament on Tuesday, Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas acknowledged an “enormous” hike in migrant arrivals at Evros.
“The increasing flows in the islands do not scare me because we know what to do. It is really troubling, however, to see the enormous increase in Evros,” Vitsas said.
The UNHCR says the increase in new arrivals is putting a strain on the only reception and identification center in Evros, which is located at Fylakio. The center is filled beyond its 240-person capacity, including 120 unaccompanied and separated children.
The authorities are forced to initially place people, including many children, in inappropriate police detention facilities while they wait for places at the center to open up, the UN agency says.
Some of those in police detention have been held for more than three months. Conditions are dismal and services are limited. A UNHCR visit found families in one facility sleeping on the floor beside a row of cells. Only one doctor and four nurses were available for more than 500 people in another police facility.
The hundreds of people kept in these conditions include pregnant women, very young children and people in need of medical and psycho-social care.
“While we welcome the recent release from detention by the authorities of more than 2,500 people, we are also concerned that this is being done without vulnerability screening and provision of proper information on asylum and other options. Their situation must be urgently addressed to enable access to care and asylum procedures,” said UNHCR spokesman Charlie Yaxley.
“We welcome the efforts of the police and the Fylakio Reception and Identification Center to address the challenges, however, with their resources increasingly stretched, the situation has become untenable,” Yaxley added.