‘They left us in tents in the cold and rain and fear’ – the refugees abandoned on the Greek Islands

‘They left us in tents in the cold and rain and fear’ – the refugees abandoned on the Greek Islands

When war broke out in Syria in 2015, millions fled. Many risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe – and safety.

They were not alone. Refugees from other countries, driven from their homes due to conflict or persecution, also risked everything for a better life.

Greece, a country quickly overwhelmed as the number of people seeking asylum in Europe increased due to the outbreak of war in Syria in 2015, has since has harshened its stance on asylum as solidarity from member states in responding and sharing the responsibility waned. As a result, thousands of people have found themselves trapped in dangerously overcrowded camps on the Greek Islands of Lesvos, Kos, Samos and Chios.

They went through hell to get to safety. Now they find themselves in a new hell.

Vulnerable people including children, survivors of sexual violence and the elderly are detained without reason.

A child looks around the site of Moria camp, Lesvos, which was destroyed by fire in September 2020. Photo: Yousif Al Shewaili / Oxfam

"We don’t even have our basic rights as refugees. We are not free and we don’t know for how long [we will remain detained]. They are replacing our names with numbers, treating us as if were in prison, calling us by our numbers.”

-M. Elderly Syrian refugee under prolonged detention on Kos

Women don’t feel safe in the camps, especially at night.

Women and girls are scared to leave their tents at night, even to go use the toilets. Photo: Giorgos Moutafis/Oxfam

"Particularly us single women, [we feel] fear. At night it is dark and we cannot go to the toilet. We feel abandoned. [I would ask Europe] to close down the camp; to transfer people under a safe roof. To stop pushing people back to Turkey."

-R. Single woman asylum seeker on Lesvos

One in five people has attempted suicide.

A woman takes part in a protest. She wants to be transferred to mainland Greece or another European country. Photo: Yousif Al Shewaili/Oxfam

“Life here makes us feel despair. We don’t feel safe and feel mentally burdened by the conditions in which we live. We are waiting for Europe to display more responsibility; to honour human rights and the rights of refugees. We want a life in dignity and safety; for our families and our children.”

-M. Elderly Syrian father of two in Kos

In Samos, adults and children have been bitten by rats, scorpions and snakes.

Refugees in the camps are living in extremely poor and unsafe conditions. Photo: Giorgos Moutafis/Oxfam

“We were expecting… the EU to treat us humanly and show more interest because we come from Syria, where there is war. Here everything is different, they are not interested – they left us in tents in the cold and rain and fear.”

-D. Father on Chios

Children are missing out on an education and the opportunity for a better future.

A girl sits in a tent in the site of the former Moria camp. Photo: Giorgos Moutafis/Oxfam

“We have lived for too long in this camp. Unsanitary conditions are not suitable for my family and myself. We are very tired (mentally). We have health issues. My children cannot have a suitable life in this camp. We want a better life. I hope they [Europe] will not forget us Syrians that come from a war-torn country; that we will be granted asylum."

-H. Syrian family in Kos

Oxfam is calling on EU member states to act in solidarity and uphold and protect a person’s right to seek asylum and to have their application assessed in a fair and timely manner. In addition, it is urging member states to engage in genuine and fair responsibility sharing in relation to refugee relocation and resettlement commitments.

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