Following many outcries last month by NPOs such as Human Rights Watch claiming that disabled refugees living in Greek camps are “an afterthought,” the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) held discussions on the subject on February 14.
UNHCR representative Polyxeni Passa addressed the issues at hand that impact the disabled refugees such as the fact that the migrant centers are lacking in proper facilities for accommodations in the overcrowded camps, access to sanitation such as being able to clean themselves regularly, medical care and access to mental healthcare. “It is crucial to identify persons with specific needs so that they are, first of all, exempted from admissibility procedures and border procedures, and so they are referred to proper services,” Passa said according to euractiv.com.
“Accessibility of basic services is not ensured yet. The situation is difficult,” Passa added, saying, “Physical infrastructure is not adapted: difficult access to latrines and showers, schools, safe spaces for women and children. There is currently a limited access to specialized services to be offered to persons with disabilities.”
The question which remained at the focal point of the discussion was asking what must be done in order to change things at the camp for disabled migrants. Ioannis Vardakastanis, a member of the EESC made it clear that focusing only on Greece in order to find a solution is not enough.
“Let’s not make the mistake of focusing on Greece today, because if we do this, we miss the point,” he said, stating clearly that a plan of immediate action is needed.
“What we wanted to do today is make the European Union, the United Nations, the NGOs, etc. — (to) make them responsible for meeting the obligations that are derived from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, general international law, and to provide focused support to refugees and migrants with disabilities. It doesn’t matter where they are,” Vardakastanis explained.
Complicating the situation even more for the disabled refugees is the series of cold snaps bringing negative zero temperatures and snow to the migrant camps in Greece causing elevated concern for those individuals with disabilities who are some of the most vulnerable to extreme weather conditions.