As the evacuation of the informal refugee site at Idomeni enters its third day the International Rescue Committee expressed concerns about the conditions at some of the new sites to which refugees are being transferred, including former warehouses in industrial zones. The IRC called for immediate action to improve standards, and expressed its willingness to work with the Greek government to identify more viable locations where refugees can be accommodated.

With 55,000 people currently stranded in Greece, there is significant pressure on the Greek Government and aid agencies to construct suitable sites. The IRC proposes working together to identify appropriate locations and ensuring facilities are satisfactory before refugees arrive.

This week, the IRC has seen dozens of refugees, who had just been transferred from Idomeni, leaving sites carrying all of their belongings. IRC teams are undertaking assessments at the new sites to recommend how amenities including showers and toilets can be installed. They have also brought supplies of drinking water and identified arrivals with specific needs, such as those with infants.

It is important that the new sites remain temporary solutions for refugees as they apply for asylum and relocation. The current asylum system is overburdened and under resourced. The fact that refugees continue to be stranded in Greece in such significant numbers two months after the EU-Turkey deal was put into effect speaks volumes to the lack of resources that have been put into the legal pathways already in place that would facilitate refugees’ passage into the rest of Europe.

Rowan Cody, International Rescue Committee’s Field Coordinator for Northern Greece, said: “Destination sites are currently not ready. The IRC will continue to work in coordination with the Greek government to improve conditions– all sites must meet humanitarian standards. This is not just about survival – sites must provide for refugees’ basic needs, as well as services to help people in dire need of protection.

“Human dignity must remain paramount. Increasing desperation is already leading to spikes of violence and an increase in mental health issues. How much more can these people bear?”

Panos Navrozidis, the IRC’s country director in Greece said: “We understand the pressure the Greek government is under to provide alternate living spaces for the thousands of refugees who continue to be stranded in Greece.

“The IRC is committed to working with the government to address these challenges and move as swiftly as possible to identity alternate and more suitable living environments for these refugees.”

Melanie Ward, The IRC’s associate director of advocacy said: “The EU-Turkey deal has only deepened the humanitarian crisis in Greece. Progress moving refugees onward to Europe, legally, has been too slow and vulnerable people have been left without hope in sub-standard camps. We are now facing the prospect of long-term refugee camps on European soil. Surely this is not the standard the EU wants to set for how to respond to the global refugee crisis.”