Refugees in Greek camps targeted by mafia gangs

Aid employees warn of imminent tragedy as centres become breeding grounds for terrorism, human trafficking and violence

Fresh evidence is emerging that refugees stranded in camps across Greece are falling victim to rising different levels of vice peddled by mafia gangs who see the entrapped migrants as perfect prey for prostitution, drug trafficking and human smuggling.

Details of the alarming conditions present in many of the facilities comes as the Greek government facing criticism after the Observer s expos of sexual abuse in camps last week announced urgent measures to deal with the crisis. A farther four refugee centres, it said, would be set up in a bid to improve severe overcrowding, a major source of tensions in the camps.

Aid workers say an estimated 58,000 migrants and asylum seekers in Greece are increasingly being targeted by Greek and Albanian mafium. Tales of felons infiltrating camps to recruit vulnerable women and men are legion.

If nothing is done to improve the lifestyle of these refugees and to use their period more productively, I assure a major tragedy, warned Nesrin Abaza, an American assistance employee volunteering at the first privately funded camp known as Elpida( Greek for hope) outside Thessaloniki. These camps are a fertile breeding ground for terrorism, gangs and violence. It seems like the world has forgotten about them. They are not headline news any more, so therefore they is not available but the neglect just goes to show its ugly head.

With an estimated 55 centres nationwide including hotspots on the Aegean islands within view of Turkey Greece has effectively become a huge holding pen for refugees since EU and Balkan countries closed their borders to shut them out earlier this year.

In private, many Greek officials carry alarm that numbers are growing amid worrying signs that the five-month-old bargain signed between Ankara and the EU to keep the flows in check is on the verge of collapse.

Although nowhere near the level of last summertime when at its height 10,000 people streamed into Lesbos in a day arrivals have risen visibly since last months failed coup in Turkey. In the 24 -hour period between Thursday and Friday some 261 migrants and refugees nearly double the normal number were picked up on islands.

Unable to move on, annoyance has mounted among the thousands now stuck in limbo. On the back of uncertainty and fury over delayed asylum processes, marooned migrants say they have become sitting ducks for felons as they move in. I never knew a thing about medications and now I am doing drugs, said a 17 -year-old Syrian youth detained in a camp that stands in a defunct Softex toilet-roll factory on the outskirts of Thessaloniki. This camp is horrid. We live like animals in tents in burning heat.

Drugs, he ventured, had become the central cause for violence, with brawls erupting often. The Greek and Albanian mafia come here and push the drugs, he explained conceding that he financed his own habit by illicitly sneaking into Macedonia, where he bought cartons of cigarettes to sell in the camp. The police are non-existent. They consider drugs, knife, fighting and do nothing. They do not care. The world does not care.

The testimony, which is backed up by human rights groups that have deplored the appalling living conditions in Greek detention centres, comes after the EU released 83 m( 71.8 m) in April to improve living conditions for refugees stranded in the country. The UN refugee agency, the International Federation of the Red Cross and six international NGOs were given the bulk of the funding. Greece by then had already received 181 m to assist deal with the crisis from Brussels.

Announcing the emergency support, the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, Christos Stylianides, claimed the help was a concrete example of how the EU delivers on the challenges Europe faces.

We have to restore dignified living conditions for refugees and migrants in Europe as swiftly as possible, he said.

But four months later, as allegations of sexual abuse and criminal activity envelop the camps, questions are mounting over whether the money was properly administered. In addition to bad sanitary conditions and lack of police protection, the latest revelations have shone a light on whether the humanitarian system is working at all.

There is no emphasis on humanity, it is all about numbers, Amed Khan, a financier turned philanthropist who money Elpida, told the Observer . Elpida, also established in a former mill near Thessaloniki, has a tea room and yoga centre and, find itself as a pioneering initiative, fosters refugees to regard it as a home. In the month since the camp opened its doors, it has won plaudits for being the most humane refugee centre in Greece.

Nobody is using money here efficiently or effectively, lamented Khan. The humanitarian system is the same one that has been in place since the second world war, it absence intellectual flexibility and is totally transgressed. The real question to be asked is, has the aid that has been given been appropriately utilised?

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