The Greek navy has sent one of its vessels to the island of Lesvos to temporarily house more than 500 refugees who were trapped in tents, following a cold spell and snow storm that hit much of Greece.
The island’s medical association called the current conditions of refugees in the Moria camp as “inhuman” and countless international agencies have decried the Greek government and European Union officials for not taking necessary steps to prevent the humanitarian crisis following the snow storms.
Photos of snow-covered tents on the island went viral on social media, despite a media black-out that was placed by local officials who didn’t want such images in the public eye.
European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud called the situation “untenable,” and blamed the Greek government for the crisis.
“We can no more dictate policy in Greece than we can in any other member state,” Bertraud said in a statement, adding that “I have to be quite clear here, the commission is aware that the situation is untenable but we also have to be clear as I was saying that ensuring adequate reception conditions in Greece is a responsibility of Greek authorities.”
Bertraud also noted that the Commission was pursuing a “dual strategy” of financial and technical support, as well as “political pressure” on Greece to improve conditions for more than 60,000 refugees that are currently trapped in Greece.
“We are pursuing a dual strategy of political pressure and financial and technical support to the Greek authorities to improve the situation,” she said.
The Greek government’s Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas blamed local officials, while admitting that the situation was unacceptable. He told reporters that the main reason there were no heated reception centers or housing for refugees was that locals have obstructed plans to expand facilities on the island, according to Kathimerini.
International aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) raged against both the Greek government and European Union officials, blaming both institutions for the refugees’ plight.
“These families are paying the price of European cynicism and the reprehensible deal with Turkey,” said MSF’s head of the mission in Greece, Clement Perrin, and called on Greek authorities to take emergency measures to provide “dignified living conditions” for refugees.