Refugees stranded in Greece suffered sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall on Tuesday at camps not designed for winter weather and the government promised those on one island temporary warm accommodations aboard a navy ship.
Frigid temperatures and bitterly cold winds have created dangerous conditions across the continent, trapping families in ill-equipped camps and shelters from Greece to Hungary. The extreme weather isolated communities caused power and water outages, froze rivers and lakes, grounded flights and triggered accidents across more than a dozen countries.
In a robust exchange in parliament the migration policy minister, Yannis Mouzalas, conceded that people trapped in the country were living in appalling conditions exacerbated by severe cold weather and unprecedented snowfall nationwide.
“The situation in the hot spots is very bad,” he said. “Conditions on the islands are awful.”
The government has faced severe criticism over conditions in reception centers, which pose health and safety risks in the depths of winter. Roland Schoenbauer, UNHCR’s spokesman in Greece, said:
“If you are a person who has been forced to flee and who has lost everything it must be terrible if you end up sleeping on the floor in a flimsy tent with snow and wind making temperatures plummet under freezing.
“It is really harsh and living conditions for people in these camps are worse than normal, and normal is already unacceptably low.”
Temperatures hovered at -1 degrees at the camp, a collection shipping containers in a forest where clothes left on hanging on lines outdoors had frozen stiff.
Humanitarian aid organizations, including the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, have pressed Greece to quickly transfer those on freezing, snowbound Aegean islands to the mainland or other European countries.