In either direction, the waiting line is stuck.
On World Refugee Day, more than 60,000 refugees and migrants are stranded in Greece. They’re eventually supposed to go forward to other countries in Europe or be sent back to Turkey, but the process is barely moving.
On the mainland, children take after-hours classes at Greek schools, while their families are moving out of tent camps and into trailers and subsidized apartments. Most will eventually be relocated to European Union countries, but the process is slow. Out of the total 63,000 places promised, just over 14,000 refugees have been moved out of Greece to 23 countries.
On the islands, where migrants are sent to wait for possible expulsion to Turkey, conditions for many have worsened as daily arrivals continue, though in smaller numbers than before. Another 14,000 people are waiting there.
It’s all part of a refugee deal launched 15 months ago after more than a million people, most fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, crossed into Europe in 2015 and 2016. Greece was a key transit point on that route, as refugees traveled from Turkey to nearby Greek islands, often using unsafe boats.
At first they were able to travel freely on to wealthier countries in northern and western Europe, but tens of thousands were stranded last year when the European Union began reintroducing border controls . Those who arrived before March 20, 2016, were allowed to move on to mainland Greece to seek relocation in an EU country. Those who arrived after are stuck on the islands. They can apply for asylum, but many are supposed to be sent back to Turkey. In practice, that’s not really happening.
Jill Biden, wife of former U.S. vice president Joe Biden, visited refugees in Chios earlier this month as part of work by the aid organization Save The Children. She traveled with Nitzia Logothetis, a psychotherapist and aid organizer, who said she was horrified by the conditions she saw.
“There were over 100 unaccompanied minors on the island, between the ages of 8 and 17, and over 1,300 refugees in total,” she told a conference in Athens after returning from the visit.
“I saw parents, children, and people who looked so hopeless. Some of the children are so stressed out, they have developed psychosis ... The children are toxically stressed. The longer they stay, the more severe their symptoms.”
She added: “A single mum told me, her daughter does not sleep. She cries all night long. Can you imagine having to give your two-and-a-half year old daughter a sedative to go to sleep every night? ... Welcome to hell on earth.”
Text from the AP news story, AP PHOTOS: Refugees, migrants stranded in limbo in Greece, by Petros Giannakouris and Derek Gatopoulos.
Gatopoulos reported from Athens.
Photos by Petros Giannakouris