Geneva - The Greek government is fomenting a hunger crisis for denied asylum seekers and recognised refugees with its policy choices, warned Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor in a statement today, leaving thousands unable to access food and other basic means of subsistence.
Greece’s government announced on 17 May that food in the Mavrovouni Closed Controlled Access Centre on the island of Lesvos will only be provided to residents seeking asylum, without any exception for particularly vulnerable people including recognised refugees and those who have been denied refugee status. With no warning or time to prepare, these individuals are at immediate risk of food insecurity, inside a European state, due to a government’s decision.
Especially affected by the decision are the 300 people currently living outside of the asylum procedure, who are being forced out of the centre with no way to sustain themselves.
In Greece, recognised refugees—who should be the most safeguarded, given their precarious status—are already cut off from financial assistance immediately after being granted protection, and booted from reception centres within 30 days. Refugees should receive support to find a job, study, or access certain social benefits, but various bureaucratic obstacles make access to such support extremely difficult, such as a general lack of access to residence permits, travel documents, and temporary social security numbers, as well as a short window of only 30 days to enjoy any benefits.
The situation is even worse for migrants whose asylum applications have been denied, like those rejected solely on inadmissibility grounds due to Greece’s consideration of Türkiye as a “safe third country” for nationals of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Somalia, and Syria. Due to this baseless consideration as well as general difficulties with returns and the fact that Türkiye has not accepted any readmissions since March 2020, these people are left in legal limbo, lacking access to legal status, rights, and basic services in Greece while unable to go to Türkiye.
As those whose asylum applications have been rejected are unable to benefit from any state aid and, without papers, are also not allowed to work regularly, the decision to deny them access to food and water effectively places them outside the system in complete invisibility. There, they become easy prey to violent abuse and are in danger of recruitment by criminal organisations that exploit their struggle to survive.
This is not the first time that large numbers of migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees have faced horrific food insecurity in Greece. By November 2021, a hunger crisis was affecting 60 per cent of all mainland camp residents, many of whom were refugees. In December 2022, following the closure of the Eleonas Centre plus the end of the ESTIA II Housing Programme, many reception centres became overcrowded, resulting in serious issues affecting not only accommodation but access to food and water. Up to 1,000 Ritsona Camp residents did not receive food for months—both those denied asylum and those recognised as refugees—despite agreements amounting to almost half a billion euros having been signed precisely for their feeding.
Greece has gradually been reducing the quality and quantity of its material reception conditions for years now. Tens of thousands of refugees over the past seven years were supported by the ESTIA programme, which was managed first by UNHCR and then by the Greek government starting in 2020, yet according to former migration minister Notis Mitarachi, “The programme has completed its mission.”
Lack of food can have severe health implications, especially for the physical and mental development of children and young adults, the reproductive health of pregnant women, and the specific dietary needs of ill and elderly individuals. But malnutrition is dangerous for everyone, as its long-lasting consequences include mental and physical impairment, the development of chronic illnesses, the weakening of the immune system, and issues related to reproductive health.
“Europe’s failure to respond humanely to the plight of migrants and refugees has clearly impacted their living conditions in the continent and Greece is a clear example of this,” said Michela Pugliese, Legal Researcher at Euro-Med Monitor.
“The problem is not that there is not enough food around but that Greece is consciously removing access to available food for these people, contributing to social exclusion and discrimination, and only for political reasons—for discouraging migrants to arrive and encouraging them to leave,” she explained.
“The right to food is not a right to be fed, as people must meet their own needs through their own efforts,” Pugliese stated, “but to be able to do this, a person must live in conditions that allow them to work, have money, and access to a market to buy food.” She added that denying recognised refugees without residence permits access to a job, salary, or state welfare programme, and the fact that undocumented migrants trapped in Greece have no rights at all to food or medical care constitutes “forms of violence they cannot escape from”.
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor urges the Greek government to facilitate access to food and water especially when people are unable to access it themselves, ensuring a dignified standard of living as enshrined in international law and in particular the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; to guarantee that everyone living in reception facilities and aid centres such as the Mavrovouni Centre have access to all basic necessities independently and irrespective of their legal status; and to recognise that food insecurity is intertwined with both housing and job insecurity and provide access to asylum as well social supports, seeing as the problem is wider than acknowledged and involves the Greek migration and asylum system as a whole.