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Trapped in Greece: the countdown has started for refugees

Photo: Giorgos Moutafis / Oxfam

Thousands of refugees – including families with small children - are trapped in dangerously overcrowded camps on Greek islands as winter sets in.

Conditions are worsening: people are being forced to sleep in tents in the cold, damp and rain with little access to food, water, health care and sanitation. And with the onset of winter, the countdown has started to ensure no one is forced to sleep in the cold.

Last year, temperatures on the Greek islands dropped to freezing. Right now over 12,500 people are trapped on Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos. Housed in facilities with the capacity to host less than half that number. Many have no other choice but to sleep in flimsy summer tents as temperatures continue to drop to what may soon be below zero.

People with disabilities are particularly vulnerable, struggling to access food, water and even basic services. Some women are forced to share tents with unrelated men, putting their privacy and safety at risk.

People come to Europe seeking safety, but for refugees living on the islands, there is an impending sense of déjà vu. Last winter, people were in tents in the snow. Five people died.

A blast likely caused by a cooking gas container killed a grandmother and her six-year-old grandchild who were sleeping in a tent on the island of Lesbos. Other deaths are reported to have been attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning from makeshift heating devices that refugees have been using to warm their freezing tents.

This cannot happen again.

The Greek government, with the support of European leaders, put in place a containment policy which prevents people from leaving the islands to travel to the mainland as part of the EU-Turkey Deal – a bad deal for refugees.

But now we have an opportunity for change.

The Greek Government and European leaders can ensure that by December 21, the official start of winter, no one is forced to sleep in the cold. They need to end this inhumane policy and #OpenTheIslands.

Take action

You can tell Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to end the containment of refugees on the islands by December 21, and call on other European leaders to support Greece in doing so.

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The International Rescue Committee is proud to campaign together with Amnesty International, Caritas Hellas, Greek Council for Refugees, Help Refugees, Human Rights Watch, Jesuit Refugee Service, Oxfam, Praksis, Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR,) Solidarity Now and Terre des Hommes.