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Afghan refugees stuck in ‘prison-like’ camps on Greek islands: International Rescue Committee

A refugee from Afghanistan waiting for medic support at a temporary camp in Germany in 2021. (A file photo by Getty Images)

A leading charity involved in global humanitarian aid has accused EU leaders of staggering neglect of Afghan refugees, many of whom have remained trapped in “prison-like” conditions on Greek islands.

In a damning report released on Wednesday, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) highlighted the plight of Afghans fleeing the country in search of a better life.

The 27-nation bloc has “consistently” failed to deliver on legal resettlement promises leaving many Afghans who do reach the EU borders “vulnerable” all over again, the report said

It said, only 271 Afghans were resettled in the EU in 2022, which is a fraction of 270,000 people identified as in need of permanent protection.

The report said that not a single person has arrived under a scheme established in Germany in 2021 to resettle up to 1,000 Afghans a month.

The aid group also blamed EU member states for consistently failing to deliver on legal resettlement promises, leaving many Afghans vulnerable on European borders.

Many remain “trapped in remote and prison-like conditions” in camps on Greek islands “preventing their inclusion into local communities and devastating their mental health," it said.

The revelation comes as many EU countries express reluctance to accept refugees following the Taliban takeover of the country. After the US withdrawal from the war-torn country in 2021, a new wave of asylum-seekers tried to reach Europe.

Between 2021 and 2022, about 41,500 Afghans at risk were admitted to the EU, many through ad hoc emergency evacuations in August 2021.

“While the IRC welcomes each of these efforts, this response remains vastly insufficient,” the report said.

Some countries have not taken any Afghans at all since the Afghan capital Kabul fell and the country was taken over by the Taliban, according to the IRC report. Two years on Afghans still lack pathways to safety in the EU.

David Miliband, head of the IRC said, “This report highlights staggering neglect of Afghans by the member states of the European Union, which puts them at risk at every step of their journeys in search of protection."

“While some states’ well-intentioned plans to bring Afghans to safety have hit repeated delays and obstacles, other countries have failed to make any pledges at all, or to guarantee adequate protection and inclusion for the tiny proportion of Afghan refugees who manage to reach Europe.”

The authors also found that more than 90% of the Afghans supported by the IRC’s mental health teams in Lesbos and Athens experienced symptoms of anxiety in the year to March 2023,

Earlier this month, a report by The Independent revealed that over 1,000 Afghans eligible to come to the UK for resettlement are stranded across  Pakistan, waiting for the UK government to evacuate them, after London ceased Royal Air Force (RAF) extraction flights from Islamabad in November last year.

No flights have been chartered for Afghans living for the past year in Pakistani hotels by the British government since last November. They have been abandoned and forced to fend for themselves.

Among those stranded are former interpreters, medics, and embassy employees, as well as at least 500 children, who are unable to leave their hotels after being granted eligibility to settle in the UK by the Ministry of Defense.

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