Greece: Urgent Need to Move Asylum Seekers from Islands

21 December 2017

Related: Greece

Athens, 21 December 2017 – More than 13,500 asylum seekers remain trapped on the Greek islands in deplorable conditions as winter begins on December 21, 2017, JRS Greece and JRS Europe said today. Greece, with support from its EU partners, 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 11,005 people in facilities with a total capacity of just 5,576. More than 1,000 people have arrived to the Greek islands during the same period.

“The decision to move 5,000 asylum seekers to the mainland is important, but it is just a first step. As we are transitioning to a government-run refugee and migrant response, we urge the Greek Government to establish a strategic plan in order to effectively lead and coordinate the different actors. The EU and its member states should support the Government and ensure the protection of the rights of refugees. Many steps have been taken, many lessons learned. Let us share this knowledge and experience for the improvement of refugees’ lives. Let us not have more deaths this winter.We all share the same goal and we have to work together to achieve it” said JRS Greece advocacy and communications officer, Veronica Paikou. 

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 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 under an agreement with Turkey to send people refused asylum back there.

JRS 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.

The Greek government is expected to introduce a bill in Parliament in the coming days to accelerate the asylum process with the aim of expediting returns to Turkey, under the EU-Turkey deal. While length of the asylum procedure is one factor contributing to people’s distress on the islands, reducing the length of asylum procedures at the expense of the quality of the process would put asylum seekers at risk of being denied the protection they need.

Such an approach is the wrong way to alleviate overcrowding or address the systemic issues linked to the containment policy and EU-Turkey deal that have created this inhumane situation on the islands. Any reform should ensure that asylum seekers have access to fair and efficient asylum procedures that allow for all asylum claims to be fairly examined on their individual merit.

For more information, please contact:

In Athens, Veronica Paikou (Greek, English): +30-697-200-4471 or  

In Brussels, Oscar Spooner: +32 2 554 02 21 or

For more information on the digital campaign, please visit:

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