The harsh reality of food insecurity in Lesvos’ refugee camp

Credit: Stratis Balaskas

Alarm bells started to ring among various NGOs and human rights groups as Greek authorities introduced yet another food-restrictive policy, fueling the ongoing hunger crisis in refugee camps.

Effective May 18th, the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum announced that the food and water provision will be discontinued for people falling outside the asylum procedure residing at the Mavrovouni Closed Controlled Access Centre (C.C.A.C.).

In this camp, located on the Greek island of Lesvos, asylum seekers are provided with food while their application for international protection is being assessed. Throughout this period, however, they are not allowed to work. If their application was successful and they become recognized refugees, they no longer receive food, but are expected to find a job immediately to sustain themselves. If their application was unsuccessful, rejected asylum seekers have the right to re-apply for international protection, yet oftentimes find themselves in legal limbos and procedural delays during which they are not active asylum seekers and are therefore denied access to food.

300 people are currently affected by this policy, not accounting for the ones who will submit their asylum application at this location henceforth. Behind this number are also pregnant and breastfeeding women, as this policy does not make any exceptions apart for minors.

This is not the first time that this group goes hungry in Greece as a result of governmental decisions. ln previous years, similar restrictive policies were implemented on the Greek mainland, affecting roughly 60 per cent of camp residents.

“It is unthinkable that people are going hungry in Greece” stressed Martha Roussou of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) back then. “Through no fault of their own they have fallen through the cracks and all because of a problem created by gaps in legislation and policy.”

Apparently, this statement continues to be true to this day.

Some steps have been taken to support asylum seekers with finding a job to buy food. Examples include the HELIOS integration support project led by the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and its partners, as well as the Food for All program led by INTERSOS.

While such projects can support numerous affected people, they cannot on their own fill the gaps of such systematic governmental decisions.

One woman with a hungry baby is already one too many.

“The right to food is not a right to be fed, as people must meet their own needs through their own efforts” according to Pugliese, a researcher at Euro-Med Monitor. “But to be able to do this, a person must live in conditions that allow them to work, to have money, and access to a market to buy food.”