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  • Rory O'Keeffe

Winter looms, but Greece remains unprepared

There are increasing signs that although the situation at refugee camps on the Greek mainland in terms of winterisation is likely to be better than last year (though the situation on the islands is likely not to be), with most people living in containers, rather than in tents outdoors or in warehouses, and without electricity, it is still very far from acceptable.

Because many of the containers have no heating, and no plans appear to be in place to equip them with heaters.

Though last Winter – for which, despite repeated warnings from NGOs and the UN, the Greek government refused to prepare – was unusually cold by Greek standards, we should not forget that several people on the mainland and islands died last Winter; in the EU, in the 21st century. And Winter is, by definition, cold.

At Oreokastro camp, Thessaloniki, last year, a family of three were seriously burned when they attempted to use cooking equipment to heat their tent. Less than a week later, refugees at Kavala were so cold they asked NGOs at the camp to agree that they could sign a disclaimer letter, so that they, too, could heat their tents with the same dangerous equipment and we would not be held responsible for it. Of course, we refused, but we do need to remember the levels of desperation caused by being continually exposed to extreme cold. We should also remember that this is neither fair, nor justifiable, in the world’s richest-ever political bloc in the modern era.

Temperatures as low as 1°C have already been recorded in the north-west of Greece, and we are only in Autumn. We must expect that it will get colder, and all of us who have the opportunity must work to ensure not only that no-one freezes to death (which would, shockingly, be an improvement on last year), but that they can have as comfortable a winter as is possible.

Simultaneously, volunteer organisations on Lesvos are buying tent heaters for refugees trapped on the island. But with several thousands more people than should be there (and the other islands which hold detention centres) and more than 1,000 of them children, it is hard to see how they can possibly provide enough, or how people can be expected to survive the winter in thin summer tents.

Though we should certainly ask what UNHCR is doing about this, last year the Greek government point-blank refused to prepare – or share its preparations – for winter on the islands and mainland, and serious questions need to be asked about what it is doing with the cash it’s being handed direct from the European Commission’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, since ECHO stopped funding aid organisations on the islands.

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