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UNHCR calls for urgent action to meet the humanitarian needs of refugees and migrants on Samos

13 November 2016

©UNHCR/Giovanni Lepri

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, appeals for urgent action to address the severe deterioration of the living conditions of refugees and migrants on Samos island in Greece. The overcrowding at the Vathy Reception and Identification Centre (RIC), recently combined with bad weather, have left several hundreds of persons in a dire living situation, particularly affecting persons with specific needs, for example those with disabilities and pregnant women, and provoking increased tensions. "The dire humanitarian situation of refugee and migrant men, women and children on Samos requires urgent action from all actors", Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR Representative in Greece, said.

The heavy rainfall on the evening of 9 November led to a situation of emergency at the RIC in Vathy. With an official capacity of up to 850 people, the Centre hosts some 2,000 refugees and migrants. About half of them have been staying for weeks and months in small camping tents out in the open, with limited access to services such as toilets and showers, exposed to protection and security risks.

Many of these camping tents were completely flooded affecting up to 1,000 people. Dozens saw their humble and precious belongings destroyed. UNHCR directly assisted those affected and the authorities to cover the immediate needs by distributing blankets, plastic sheeting and other relief items.

In this highly critical situation, UNHCR appeals to all responsible authorities to act swiftly to ensure adequate accommodation for refugees and migrants on the island. "There is no reason why vulnerable people and children remain homeless or in appalling living conditions," UNHCR Representative Leclerc said. UNHCR stands ready to assist with alternative short-term accommodation for families and vulnerable asylum-seekers, such as use of hotels at special rates, in close collaboration with local and central authorities, and trusts that it can continue to count on the local community's support for urgently needed solutions. UNHCR appeals that hotels or other accommodation facilities be made available immediately for the most vulnerable persons that it has identified.

UNHCR also believes that all efforts should be made to reduce the pressure from the overcrowding on Samos, including through full registration and transfers of more asylum-seekers to the mainland, in line with the conclusions reached at the 11 October Maximos Mansion meeting held between all involved. The conclusions referred in particular to the increase of transfers of asylum-seekers issued with asylum cards to the mainland and the reinforcement of the staffing capacity of the Asylum Service to speed up the procedures. UNHCR stands ready to continue supporting the Reception and Identification Service and the Asylum Service to such endeavors.

Furthermore, peace and security should be guaranteed for all, local population and refugees alike, while unlawful acts or incidents of racist violence should be properly investigated, prosecuted and punished.

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