Up to 25 babies under the age of six months are under-nourished in the detention centre set up in Chios as part of the migration deal between Turkey and the European Union, although some claim the real numbers are much higher. According to reports by photographers, aid workers and asylum seekers, a number of babies whose mothers are unable to breastfeed are administered roughly 100ml of milk formula just once a day, which accounts for less than a quarter of their recommended daily intake.
The men, women and children who risked everything on rubber boats are now detained behind fences, far from European eyes
This situation – a direct result of the implementation of the deal that will lead to the forced return of migrants and asylum seekers from the Greek island, having effectively turned the open refugee shelters into closed detention centres – is a violation of international protocol and confirms reports by organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that describe the conditions prevailing in the camps as “appalling”.
In previous months, hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers were allowed to leave the refugee hotspots and move onwards towards northern Europe. Since the EU-Turkey deal came into effect on 20 March, more than 6,000 people have been held on Greek islands, shortly after landing on their shores from Turkey. Some 1,100 are currently detained in the Vial camp on Chios, roughly 40 per cent of them children. According to the terms of the deal, European countries are supposed to provide hundreds of officials to help Greece care for the detainees, but most of this support has yet to arrive, leaving under-resourced officials in the Greek islands with the task.
Both the Greek police authorities and the Norwegian Refugee Council, which maintains a presence on Chios, confirmed the claim that babies are being denied access to adequate supplies of milk formula, suggesting that the numbers of suffering, malnourished babies might be much larger than reported. According to the World Health Organisation protocol, mothers in emergency situations such as those detained in Chios should be encouraged to breastfeed their babies and resort to formula only as a last resort, and in much larger doses than 100ml, delivered multiple times a day. Failing that, the infants are facing jaundice, dehydration and starvation.
Asylum seekers complain that this failure to supply the necessary amount of formula to the babies has been the cause of distress and suffering in the camp. Aid workers claim that this is just one of the things wrong in the detention centre, describing it as unsuitable for babies; lack of basic care results in babies sleeping on the floor and a hygiene crisis prevails in the camp.
Further confirming the inhumane conditions of detention in the centre, a Human Rights Watch report claimed on Tuesday that several people deported from the camp in recent weeks had been sent to Turkey without personal belongings, including medication, identification documents and clothes.
DOCTOR EXPOSES ‘SHAMEFUL’ DEAL
Exposing the details of what she claims is a “shameful” deal, Federica Zamatto, a Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres medical coordinator for migration programs, gave a detailed account of her experience on the organisation’s web page, describing a similar transformation of the hotspots into prisons in Lesvos.
“Everything has now changed on the Greek island of Lesvos, which last year saw well over half a million refugees and migrants take their first steps on European soil,” she states.
“During the chaos of last summer, 15,000 people were stranded on the island after the authorities stopped running ferries to the mainland. Now everything is clean and tidy, ready for the upcoming tourist season. The camps set up by volunteers and NGOs to provide temporary shelter to families arriving on the island are completely empty. The thousands of orange life-jackets that once lined the shores have been cleared away. The beaches are back to normal. But make no mistake: Lesvos is not quiet and tidy because people have stopped fleeing war. Instead, the men, women and children who risked everything on rubber boats are now detained behind fences, far from European eyes or on the other side of the coast, in a black hole.”
According to her description, the EU-Turkey deal to exchange is an attempt from Europe’s part to hide the refugee problem, putting it out of sight, by sending them back to Turkey.
“But these are people,” she goes on. “These are men of all ages as well as women and children who took a gamble on an uncertain route in order to leave behind conflict, instability and poverty, as the risks of the journey outweigh the constant threat they lived under in their countries of origin. As the ink dried on the shameful EU-Turkey deal, the ‘hotspot’ of Moria was transformed into a detention centre.”
After this turn of events, Doctors Without Borders decided to suspend all activities inside the camp, as the conditions prevented aid workers from delivering the services in a proper manner. Dr Zamatto goes on to describe the conditions she encountered.
“The most outrageous thing I saw, however, was many, many children kept in detention, left in miserable and indecent conditions, without proper food, education or even the chance to play, like children normally do. They were everywhere, running, sleeping, being pushed in their strollers. I could have never imagined that children, pregnant women, the elderly, most fleeing war, would have been fenced in by razor wire with the gates closed, on European soil. And I cannot find an acceptable explanation for why Europe is allowing this to happen. Europe, that failed to implement the relocation scheme from the hotspots to European countries – showing that there was no real consensus on strategy from European member states, is now trying to hide the problem by casting away the refugees and subcontracting its responsibilities to Turkey. I’m afraid that European citizens do not know what kind of outrageous deal their states have signed on their behalf. If they knew, they would feel ashamed, sick, angry and betrayed, just like I do,” she concludes.