Greek minister pledges better living conditions for refugees

Added On February 7, 2017

ATHENS, Feb. 6 (Xinhua) -- Greek Migration Policy Minister Yannis Mouzalas on Monday reiterated the government's promise to continue efforts to improve living conditions for thousands of refugees and migrants stranded in the country.

Greece has the duty to assist people in need, but will not tolerate lawlessness, the Greek official warned when being faced with protesters during a visit to the state-run reception facility at the former airport of Elliniko, a southern suburb of Athens.

Mouzalas visited the site which hosts some 1,000 people since last spring amid local media reports that a group of refugees launched a hunger strike on Sunday in protest of poor living conditions.

The minister was briefly blocked from entering the camp by a small group of protesters. Speaking to media, Mouzalas admitted shortages, stressed that debt-laden Greek authorities were doing their best to help people and criticized some local NGOs of misinforming the public and causing turmoil.

"I fully understand the pain of these people and their hardship. The Greek government understands and we honestly try hard with all our means to ease their suffering, but we will not allow any violation of state laws and manipulation," Mouzalas said.

According to Mouzalas, this small group of protesters also attempted to block food delivery at the camp, as well as the transfer of patients to hospitals by ambulances and the transfer of children to schools by school buses.

"As a state, we are obliged to improve the situation. They have the obligation to work and live here abiding by our laws. Our shortages cannot justify violations of law," the minister underlined.

Mohammad S., an Afghan resident of the Elliniko camp, and Fatima, told Xinhua that they do not ask for luxuries, but basic humane conditions.

"We are not safe in this camp. We have bad food. All children and women get sick from eating this food. Look at this child. He burned at the tent. We called for ambulance and came after five hours. Pregnant women give birth at tent," Mohammad said.

"Here is cold. Bathroom is very dirty, toilet very dirty, food bad, shower water is cold," Fatima added.

Centre-left opposition parties on Monday repeated a call for Mouzalas' resignation. A similar call was made last week by the Central Union of Greece's Municipalities.

Greek humanitarian aid groups have decried conditions in many reception centers, in particular during the snow snaps this winter, although they have recognized that progresses have been made since 2015 when more than a million refugees and migrants started landing on Greek shores mainly from Turkey.

According to the latest count released by the Migration Ministry on Monday, currently there are 62,400 people stranded in Greece after the gradual closure of borders along the Balkan route to central Europe a year ago.