World Economy

Migrants left looking for shelter as Greece struggles in crisis


Aid workers called for emergency accommodation for hundreds of migrants who are camped out in the streets of the Greek capital as it struggles back from the brink of financial collapse.

Hundreds of refugees from Afghanistan and Syria have set up temporary camps in central Athens while waiting to move on to what they hope will be a more permanent home in Europe.

A street vendor sits behind used items for sale in Athens, Greece, July 7, 2015.
Christian Hartmann | Reuters

There are two chemical toilets in the park for the migrants and they wash themselves by using a garden hose attachment at the park's taps. Stagnant water and human waste attract mosquitoes, and some of the children who walk barefoot in the park are covered in insect bites.

Strewn with old clothes, garbage and waste and with summer temperatures reaching as high as 38 degrees Celsius (100.4°F), the sites are unfit for habitation but remain because there is no alternative.

"We need a campus because more and more people are coming so they cannot live like this in the center of the city," said Nikitas Kanakis, president of the Greek section of medical charity Doctors of the World.

"It's not good for them, it's not safe for them, and it's not good for the city," he said.

The migrants have all made the perilous journey from war-torn Afghanistan through Turkey to the Greek islands, where they enter Europe for the first time, usually to find overcrowded and unsanitary camps.

"Every day there's suicide attack in Afghanistan, in the north, and in the south of Afghanistan there's a lot of problems," said 25 year-old Naeem from the Panjshir valley in northern Afghanistan. "Because Taliban everyday they attack the national army and police of the Afghanistan and the government."

Naeem said he wanted to reach Germany but for the moment, he is living at a makeshift camp at the Pedion Tou Areos park in central Athens because the official reception centers where migrants were previously accommodated were closed.

No water, no food

While the overcrowded and unsanitary official centers were the target of strong criticism, their closure has left a gap.

However with Greece in the grip of its most severe economic crisis since World War Two and facing an uncertain future while talks over yet another international bailout begin, prospects of immediate relief appear distant.

"It's a huge problem because there are families with young children in a really bad situation with no water, with no food," Kanakis said, adding that his organisation tried to provide basic medical care but more was needed.

"We need a place, a center where they can stay," he said.

Along with Italy, which has faced a massive influx of African migrants arriving by boat from Libya, Greece is at the front lines of a crisis that has threatened to overwhelm public services already worn down by years of recession.

According to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, migrant arrivals in Greece have leapt almost tenfold in the first six months of the year, jumping from 3,452 in the first six months of 2014 to 31,037 this year.

A coordinated response from Europe has been slow in coming however, caught up by wrangling over how to distribute the arrivals among countries where anti-immigration parties have seen a steady rise in support.

"This is an emergency for Europe not to tell that they will help, to help. Otherwise, the situation will become worse and worse and we will see in the middle of Athens pictures that the humanitarian doctors have seen back in the east or back in Africa," Kanakis said.