ATHENS – Migrants held on the Greek islands Lesbos and Chios live in “appalling” conditions with little access to legal aid or information about their fate under a European Union agreement that will send some back to Turkey, Amnesty International said on Thursday.
Under a deal between the EU and Ankara in place since March 20, undocumented migrants who cross to Greek islands will be kept in holding centres until their asylum claims are processed. Those who do not qualify will be returned to Turkey.
The first group of 202 migrants to be returned, most of them from Pakistan and Afghanistan, were sent back to Turkey on Monday.
“People detained on Lesbos and Chios have virtually no access to legal aid, limited access to services and support, and hardly any information about their current status or possible fate,” said Amnesty Deputy Director for Europe Gauri van Gulik. “The fear and desperation are palpable,” she said.
In a report published Thursday, Amnesty said among those held in the centres are a small baby with complications after an attack in Syria, heavily pregnant women, people unable to walk, and a young girl with a developmental disability.
Many refugees spoke about the lack of access to doctors or medical staff. Legal aid is scarce and inaccessible to the vast majority, and asylum procedures are expected to be rushed, it said.
Refugees told Amnesty that they did not get enough information about what the asylum process will entail. Many have received no or incomplete documentation of their registration.
“It is likely that thousands of asylum seekers will be returned to Turkey despite it being manifestly unsafe for them,” Amnesty wrote. Monitors visited the islands this week.
One Syrian woman told Amnesty she and her family signed several documents despite not having an interpreter present, and were not provided with copies.
“I don’t need food, I need to know what is happening,” the woman was quoted as saying.
“Serious and immediate steps must be taken to address the glaring gaps we’ve documented in Lesbos and Chios,” Amnesty’s van Gulik said.
“They show that in addition to Turkey not being safe for refugees at the moment, there are also serious flaws on the Greek side of the EU-Turkey deal. Until both are fully resolved, no further returns should take place.”