NGOs urge Greece to act over 'shameful' migrant camps

FILE PHOTO: Refugees and migrants line up for food distribution at the Moria migrant camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis/File Photo

ATHENS (Reuters) - More than 17,000 migrants are crammed into Greek island camps in conditions unfit for human habitation, 19 civil society organizations said on Thursday, urging authorities to take wider action beyond focusing on one camp.

On Monday, the governor of the north Aegean region said the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece’s biggest, faced closure next month unless authorities cleaned up uncontrollable amounts of waste.

More than 8,300 refugees and migrants are in the former military camp, housed in shipping containers and flimsy tents in conditions widely criticized as falling short of basic standards.

The NGOs, which included Oxfam and Action Aid, called conditions at Moria “shameful”, but said the same applied to other island camps.

“There is no excuse for the ... conditions in which thousands of people remain trapped in limbo while they wait out their asylum claims,” the NGOs said.

“Moria ... is currently housing almost three times its capacity. The sewage system does not work and filthy toilet water reaches the tents and mattresses where children sleep.”

Last month the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR urged Greece to speed up transfers of eligible asylum-seekers from Aegean islands to the mainland, noting that conditions at Moria were “reaching boiling point”.

Greece has moved asylum seekers to the mainland in recent months and is looking to speed up efforts to reduce numbers at the camps.

Lesbos, not far from Turkey, was the preferred entry point into the European Union in 2015 for nearly a million Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis. Small numbers of boats continue to arrive there.

Reporting by George Georgiopoulos; editing by John Stonestreet