Doubts simmer over EU plan to fund new refugee camps in Greece

The bloc is set to announce a 250 million-euro ($295m) investment, but rights groups have told Al Jazeera the sites may not improve life for those on the islands.

There are currently more than 13,300 people living in camps across the Greek islands [File: Aris Messinis/AFP]

Athens, Greece – A top European Union official is set to announce a 250-million euro ($295m) fund for new refugee camps to be built on Greece’s Aegean islands, but rights groups have warned the investment may do little to support those living in precarious conditions.

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, is expected to visit Lesbos and Samos on Monday with Greek Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarachi.

Johansson has said the funds for the camps, or Multi-Purpose Reception and Identification Centres (MPRICs), should be sufficient for “acceptable standards”, to be delivered “on a reasonable timetable”.

The structures, planned to be ready before the end of the year, would not be “closed”, she wrote in a blog post on the European Commission website, published on Wednesday. “They will be humane, and allow for areas for families and vulnerable people.

“They will allow children to get schooling – essential so that precious years are not wasted.”

However, Greek authorities have repeatedly stated that the new sites will be “closed and controlled”.

Matthias Mertens, a co-founder of the Europe Must Act rights group that focuses on migration, told Al Jazeera he was concerned about people’s personal freedoms.

“The new MPRICs will offer prison-like living conditions to asylum seekers in remote locations outside the urban fabric,” he said.

“They will curtail the agency of refugees, while also diminishing the ability of NGOs to provide essential services, both are vital to guarantee humane and dignified living conditions.

“There is also no democratic mandate for the construction of these new camps nor are they perceived as European solidarity in action by the local islanders. On the contrary, resistance against the MPRICs is fierce and widespread.”

Locals living on the islands have also voiced their opposition.

Last March, after building materials were brought in for the new sites, residents protested. Some in Lesbos and Chios then clashed with riot police sent in from Athens to disperse them.

Last week, the regional governor for the North Aegean, Kostas Moutzouris, told local news that he still believed that there should be no “permanent” structure on the island but that continued dialogue was important.

Marta Welander, head of Refugee Rights Europe, said the EU-funded camps should be accompanied by a “robust, independent and transparent monitoring mechanism which can help ensure human rights compliance of all operations in the centres.

“Without a meaningful investment in – and commitment to – such a monitoring mechanism, these centres risk becoming dangerous vanishing points where rights violations perpetrated against vulnerable people on the move are allowed to unfold unhindered,” Welander said.

More than 13,300 people are currently living in camps across the islands.

Farah (not her real name), a 21-year-old from Afghanistan, lived in a temporary camp on Lesbos before being relocated with her family this month to Germany.

“If a new camp must be built, it must have proper bathrooms, good food, enough water and proper washbasins and there should be no tents, living in a tent is very difficult,” she said.

“There should be more doctors and schools [too].”

Epaminondas Farmakis from Human Rights 360 told Al Jazeera he was not convinced that money would lead to better camps.

“Moria, Lesbos has been the moral failure of Europe,” he said.

“The conditions are atrocious for many years now and more than 3 billion euros [$3.5bn] are directed from the EU to Greece to tackle this process. These funds are distributed with no transparency and no procurement policies so the answer would not be to throw more EU taxpayer funding to waste.”

Source: Al Jazeera