rsa.org | 21 December 2023
Rhodes: Newly arrived refugees with no shelter and adequate food, at the mercy of winter
In recent months, due to delays in people’s transfer to other areas outside Rhodes where there is adequate infrastructure, the majority of new arrivals on the island – including families with young children – end up sleeping in parks, pavements, squares, on cardboard boxes, in tents and makeshift sheds.
According to UNHCR data, 6,290 people had arrived in Rhodes from the beginning of the year to December 10. It should also be noted that newcomers on neighbouring islands such as Kastelorizo are also initially transferred to Rhodes.
There is no formal or informal accommodation structure in Rhodes, while the closest infrastructure for asylum seekers’ first reception and identification procedures is on the island of Kos. According to reports, newcomers’ countries of origin are mainly Syria and Palestine, i.e. people with a purely refugee profile.
Transfer difficulties to overcrowded CCACs
According to UNHCR, Rhodes has had the highest number of arrivals in the Dodecanese in recent months. This creates huge delays in registration, preventing the people’s transfer to Kos, Leros or the mainland. Last week 250 people were transferred from Rhodes to the mainland. According to press publications, between August and the end of October, i.e. in just three months, a total of 7,000 people from Rhodes have been transferred to Kos, Leros and Athens. The fact that during winter there is no daily ferry connection from Rhodes to Leros and Kos makes their transfer to the Closed Controlled Access Centres (CCACs) even more difficult – centres that are already overcrowded since this autumn.
Newcomers survive only with the support of volunteers and people of solidarity and a minimal contribution from the Municipality of Rhodes. It is important to underline that, despite the difficult situation of many residents on the island after the summer fires, there is a significant movement of solidarity towards the refugees from local associations and from organisations and movements outside Rhodes.
No state care
Earlier this week, the UNHCR head in the Dodecanese, Thanos Stamos, expressed his concern about the lack of access to essential services and basic goods for dozens of refugees in Rhodes. In early November, the Rhodes Bar Association sent a letter to the Minister of Migration and Asylum Dimitris Kairidis requesting migrants and refugees’ transfer from Rhodes to existing structures, stressing among other things that newcomers are “exposed, unprotected without any organised care and hospitality”. The letter even refers to young children sleeping in cardboard boxes.
The self-organised citizens’ movement “Elafi”, which was created after the summer fires in Rhodes and provides significant assistance to newly arrived refugees as well, reported at the end of October that there was absolutely no state care, while the provisions from the local government were minimal and not even basic sanitary conditions were ensured. In many cases people were forced to use areas around the parks where they slept as latrines, with all the consequences this has both for their own health and for public health.
Insufficient food supply from the Municipality of Rhodes
Apart from the significant problem of lack of accommodation, there are also significant issues regarding homeless refugees’ feeding. According to testimonies from solidarity groups, in the autumn the Municipality of Rhodes provided, only after much pressure, the provision of limited portions of food, which were not enough for all the people, while it did not provide staff for the transfer and distribution of the portions, eventually taken over by the solidarity groups. On December 14, “Elafi” wrote in a Facebook post regarding the insufficient number of food portions provided by the Municipality, among other things: “Today, only 50 food portions were provided, while there are at least 130 refugees with many children among them. We call for the umpteenth time the Municipality of Rhodes to take over fully and responsibly the basic feeding of these people (at least one portion per day for each person).” There was also an urgent need for blankets due to the low temperatures. Access to health care is also an important issue. Some pharmacies in Rhodes donated medicines when there was an appeal from solidarity groups. In order to access a doctor, newcomers have to transfer to the hospital by taxi and bus.
Refugees in a desperate situation
At the end of October, dozens of homeless refugees attempted to board a passenger ship in order to go to organised structures and submit their asylum claims. According to the publication, refugees were even threatened with a violent pushback by police officers who forced them to leave a park where they were sleeping. This follows an unsuccessful attempt by the authorities to move the refugees to tents in the commercial port in Acadia behind the old slaughterhouses in view of the 28 October parade, until the completion of the procedures required for their transfer. In the end, this transfer was not allowed by the prosecutor of the Rhodes Court, underlining in her document, among other things, that the temporary solution not only cannot be licensed, but also does not meet basic health and safety standards.