World

Extreme weather threatening refugees’ lives in Greece, humanitarian groups say

Did the winter catch the country by surprise, or did authorities fail to prepare in time?

Unusual winter weather in Greece is threatening the lives of refugees there, humanitarian agencies are warning.

Parts of the country have seen more than 3 feet of snow and temperatures as low as 0°F over the weekend, The Independent reported. Communication lines and roads are disabled on several islands.

In Moria, a large camp on the island of Lesbos, around 15,000 people are still living in overcrowded conditions in thin summer tents.

At least one Afghan man died in the cold conditions last week, Greek media reported, as the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) rushed to distribute thermal blankets and heating fuel and install electric heaters and insulation.

Host families have taken in about 21,000 people determined to be most at risk from the weather, but rights groups are calling on the Greek government to act quickly to reduce overcrowding by moving the most vulnerable people on Greece’s islands to the mainland.

Families have also taken in about 700 unaccompanied child refugees.

In his 2017 Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis spoke much about children who become refugees and must travel without adults. “I ask everyone to take care of the young, who in a threefold way are defenseless: they are children, they are foreigners, and they have no means to protect themselves,” the pope wrote.

Greek authorities have been criticized for not preparing properly for the life-threatening winter weather. “Europe should stop making the lives of migrants and refugees more miserable,” a statement from Medicins Sans Frontieres read.

In December, the EU, aid groups and the Greek authorities were accused of bungling the handling of €90 million worth of jointly-managed funding which was supposed to be set aside for “winterizing” camps before the first snows fell last month.

Shawn Neal

John Burger

John Burger is a news editor at Aleteia. He formerly worked at the National Catholic Register and Catholic New York in the Archdiocese of New York. He has also written for a wide variety of Catholic publications.
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