Children living in abysmal conditions as number of refugees arriving on Greek islands spikes

Thursday 21 September 2017

A surge in new arrivals on the Greek islands is causing severe overcrowding, with up to 16 people to a five-person tent, babies forced to sleep on the ground and children put at grave risk, Save the Children warned today. 

Nearly 200 people a day – the highest rate since March 2016 – have been arriving by boat so far this month after fleeing warzones such as Syria and Iraq, seeing facilities on the eastern Aegean islands of Samos, Lesvos, Chios, Leros and Kos burst at the seams. More than 6,000 people have arrived since the start of August, an estimated 40 percent of them children. Slow asylum processes mean people are stuck on the islands indefinitely, and families with children are having to live in makeshift shelters with water shortages, poor sanitation and insufficient toilets. Rats and insects have infested living areas, and improvised electrical wiring poses danger to children. 

The overcrowding has left some camps highly unsafe for children, with frequent incidents of violence and abuse against children. Long stays in unsafe conditions expose children to psychological harm, including increased levels of stress and anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, depression and self-harming, as revealed by a Save the Children report in March

Almost 10,000 people are now placed in hotspots which have a total capacity of just 5,576. In Samos, more than 2,800 people are living in a Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) with a maximum capacity of just 700 people. Almost 600 children, including 76 children who are unaccompanied or separated from their families, are living in these conditions. In Lesvos, the RIC – where people must remain until their asylum decisions are heard – is hosting more than 4,300 people, almost double its capacity of 2,330.

Andreas Ring, Save the Children’s Humanitarian Representative in Greece, said: 

“Two years into this crisis, we are still seeing families sharing tents and children, including babies, sleeping on the ground. Mothers are telling us that they cannot get medical appointments for sick children because of the huge backlog, while pregnant women slip over on the muddy rocks near their tents. We know of 16 people from three families, including a pregnant woman, having to share a tent designed for five. This is not a safe environment and it is putting children’s health and wellbeing at risk. 

At the same time, the asylum procedures are moving at a snail’s pace, meaning most people will stay here for a long while. Uncertainty about their future combined with the extremely difficult living conditions are enough to push people to breaking point, especially those who have already experienced traumatic events in their homeland.” 

Save the Children is calling on the Greek government to do more to ease the overcrowding and terrible conditions – starting with immediate steps to decongest the islands and allow people to move to the mainland, prioritizing the most vulnerable people. The government should also speed up efforts to improve reception conditions on the islands and ensure children’s safety within the hotspots.

Save the Children is extremely concerned that, while humanitarian needs on the islands are increasing, the availability of essential services is currently diminishing. This is due to a decrease in donor funding available for the islands as management of the response transitions to the Greek government, and to the fact that several NGOs have had to withdraw or scale down their work as a result. Save the Children continues to provide aid on several Greek islands, but is also having to scale down or hand over some of its work to local agencies. We strongly urge donors and the Greek government to ensure that funds are made available to guarantee that vital humanitarian work on the islands can continue and refugee and migrant children have access to the services they need. 

Note to editors: 

Save the Children has been providing assistance to children and adults across Greece since August 2015. 

According to the Ministry of Migration Policy, as of 18thSeptember: 

The number of refugees and migrants in the Reception and Identification Centers of the islands of Samos, Chios, Lesvos, Leros and Kos: 

·         Samos = 2,817 (capacity =700)

·         Chios = 1,213 (capacity = 894)

·         Lesvos = 4,352 (capacity = 2,330)

·         Leros = 705 (capacity =880)

·         Kos = 808(capacity =772)

The total refugee and migrant population on the islands of Samos, Chios, Lesvos, Leros and Kos:

·       Samos = 2,971

·       Chios = 1,792

·       Lesvos = 5,916

·       Leros = 855

·       Kos = 1,329

UNHCR reports that at least 3,584 people arrived in August and 3,321 have arrived so far in September as of 17th September (

In July, 41 percent of new arrivals were from Syria, with other significant numbers from Iraq (12.5 percent) and Afghanistan (9 percent). In July, 40 percent of new arrivals were children.  

For more information or to arrange an interview please contact Tania in Greece on +30 698 012 1497 or Simona in London on +44 7760 221 890. For out of hours enquiries please contact the 24 hour media line on +44 7831 650 409.

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