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Greece: Urgent Need to Move Asylum Seekers from Islands - As Winter Begins, Accelerate Transfers, End Containment Policy


(Athens, December 22, 2017) – More than 13,500 asylum seekers remain trapped on the Greek islands in deplorable conditions as winter begins on December 21, 2017, Terre des hommes said today. Greece, with support from its EU partners, should urgently transfer thousands of asylum seekers to the Greek mainland and provide them with adequate accommodation and access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.

The Greek government committed in early December that it would move 5,000 asylum seekers from the islands to the mainland as an emergency measure, before the onset of winter. Despite the transfer of almost 3,000 people since early December, the hotspots on Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros, and Kos still have 11,005 people in facilities with a total capacity of just 5,576. More than 1,000 people have arrived to the Greek islands during the same period.

Terre des hommes Foundation (Tdh), the leading Swiss NGO focusing on child rights, welcomes the decision of Prime Minister Tsipras to transfer 5,000 asylum seekers from the islands to the mainland. “It is going in the right direction, as it is not acceptable to let people die on the Greek islands again this year”, it said. To imagine that a child has to spend the winter in a camping tent in the cold, ice and rain is a nightmare for every parent. That’s why Tdh helps to keep shelters for unaccompagnied children open on the islands and helps accommodating refugees and migrants on the mainland”.

In a campaign that began on December 1, 13 human rights and aid organizations called on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, to end Greece’s policy of containing asylum seekers on the islands. The groups said that Greek authorities should immediately transfer people to improved conditions on the mainland and take concrete measures before the official start of winter so that no asylum seekers are left out in the cold. The groups also said that other EU leaders should take a clear stand to end the containment policy that keeps asylum seekers trapped on the islands under an agreement with Turkey to send people refused asylum back there.

Terre des hommes and other groups participating in the campaign will continue campaigning throughout the winter, highlighting the deplorable conditions asylum seekers trapped on the islands face. The groups will press the Greek government and EU leaders for a more effective response that protects the rights and reduces the suffering of asylum seekers arriving in Greece.

The Greek government is expected to introduce a bill in Parliament in the coming days to accelerate the asylum process with the aim of expediting returns to Turkey, under the EU-Turkey deal. While length of the asylum procedure is one factor contributing to people’s distress on the islands, reducing the length of asylum procedures at the expense of the quality of the process would put asylum seekers at risk of being denied the protection they need, the groups believe.

Such an approach is the wrong way to alleviate overcrowding or address the systemic issues linked to the containment policy and EU-Turkey deal that have created this inhumane situation on the islands. Any reform should ensure that asylum seekers have access to fair and efficient asylum procedures that allow for all asylum claims to be fairly examined on their individual merit.

Last winter, five asylum seekers, including a child, died in the miserably cold Moria camp on Lesbos. Tdh aims to work with the Greek and EU authorities to prevent such tragedies from happening again.

For more information on the digital campaign, please visit:

Greece: Move Asylum Seekers to Safety Before Winter Hits

Destination Unknown Campaign: Support the Campaign to Move Asylum Seekers in Greece to Safety Before Winter Hits

For more information, please contact Tdh:

In Athens, Melina Spathari (Greek, Spanish, English, French,): +30-6947 316085; or

Organizations Participating in the Campaign:

Amnesty International

Caritas Hellas

Greek Council for Refugees

Greek Forum of Refugees

Help Refugees

Human Rights Watch

International Rescue Committee

Jesuit Refugee Service



Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR)

Solidarity Now

Terre des hommes