Nearly 11,000 asylum seekers remain trapped on the Greek islands in deplorable conditions as winter begins on December 21, 2017, the International Rescue Committtee said today. Greek authorities, with the support of other EU leaders, 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 11,000 people in facilities with a total capacity of just over 5,500. More than 1,000 people have arrived to the Greek islands during the same period. 

“While we welcome the progress that has been made to date it does not go far enough. All involved must make a concerted effort to ensure that people are transferred from overcrowded hotspots on the islands immediately,” said the IRC’s country director in Greece, Jana Frey. “Winter is upon us. Last year, people died on the islands because of the conditions in which they were forced to live. This was unacceptable then and it would be unacceptable now. The islands must be decongested immediately.”

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 from dangerously overcrowded facilities on the islands 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 as part of the EU-Turkey deal. 

The International Rescue Committee 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.

For more information on the digital campaign, see here

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