I am deeply concerned about reports raised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and others about the overcrowded and unhygienic conditions in the refugee and migrant camps (known as Reception and Identification Centres, RICs) on the Greek Aegean islands. I am particularly concerned that the number of people in the RICs greatly exceeds their capacity.
The situation on Lesbos in particular is deeply worrying following the destruction of the Moria RIC by fire on 8 September. According to the UNHCR, children account for almost a third of refugees and asylum-seekers on the Aegean islands and some 400 unaccompanied children were living in the Moria RIC at the time of the fire. We already know that unaccompanied children and adolescents are at severe risk of exploitation, neglect and abuse.
The Shadow Home Secretary is leading on this on behalf of the Shadow Cabinet and has written to the Government about this situation. You can see his letter here https://twitter.com/NickTorfaen/status/1304024009458225154 He is working alongside Lord Alf Dubs on this, who has also written to the Home Secretary – his letter can be found here https://twitter.com/AlfDubs/status/1303770977147461632?s=20 Following the Home Office’s closure of the Dubs scheme after resettling just a few hundred children, I would like the Government to investigate how the UK can legally and safely work with international partners to help some of these desperate children.
The Government should now show the compassion that I consider to have been lacking from its approach to this issue to date. I believe part of this must be an acceptance of the importance of safe routes for those seeking asylum. As the cross-party Foreign Affairs Committee (of which I was a member) has warned the Government, failure to offer any form of safe routes for children in such desperate circumstances is likely to end with even more people risking their lives on the sea.
Specifically on the threat of coronavirus in the Aegean island RICs, I know that the UNHCR is assisting with the relocation of older and immunocompromised people of concern out of the RICs to locations where their risk of exposure is reduced. According to the UNHCR, over 2,600 people were transferred throughout August and some 606 people were transferred in the first week of September.
I previously wrote to the Home Office and the Foreign Office about this matter and will be pressing them for further action.