Refugee crisis in Greece bleak as winter weather continues to worsen

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A cold front has brought a wave of sub-zero temperatures across Greece and has left thousands of refugees to brave the winter months in shelters that are not suitable for the bitterly cold weather. Last month, Greece was criticized by the European Commission for its highly flawed living conditions for asylum-seekers. Nearly 60,000 migrants have been trapped in Greece since the Balkan countries closed their borders in March.

Despite members of the European Union pledging to welcome in the trapped refugees, less than 9,000 have successfully been relocated within the past eleven months. With living conditions for migrants worsening during the winter months, human rights groups have been ramping up their warnings this week.

The major concern for migrants’ safety peaked after the death of three migrants during a recent cold front in Lesbos. These fatal living conditions have prompted the approval of emergency funds on Thursday from the European Union for 3.9 million euros. While this money will surely help, it will not nearly be enough to satisfy refugees’ demands, ranging from access to better medical attention to being housed in proper homes as opposed to makeshift tents that provide minimal warmth.

After nearly a year of being trapped in unsanitary living quarters, refugees have become increasingly cynical of their prospects of making it out of the camps. As the integration of migrants into the European Union has been faced with strong resistance, neighboring countries have been reluctant to reopen their borders. The TIME’s Finding Home Project has tracked stories of refugees who have fled the conflict ridden zones of Syria and are now on a grueling journey to seek a new life in Europe.

One of these stories followed Ilham and her family of seven, who were recently relocated from the Oreokastro refugee camp in Northern Greece to a hotel, just in time to escape the harsh winter weather.

The Oreokastro refugee camp was often referred to as “Hell on Earth” and “Greece’s Shame” by the residents. Additionally, the word “tomb” was painted above each makeshift tent, symbolizing the lost hopes and dreams of the residents. However, while recounting her time at the camp, Ilham suggests that she had a love-hate affection for it.

Despite the horrid conditions and barely being able to scrape by, Ilham and most other residents grew to consider Oreokastro as their home. Now, Ilham and her family have the luxury of hot running water and are guaranteed three meals a day. Still, the transition to hotel living has been harder than she expected as she knows it will only be a temporary stay. Ilham’s story of constantly being uprooted from her home is representative of the thousands of refugees still trapped in Greece. Many refugees have fled their homes in Syria with minimal possessions and lack the necessary clothing and shelter to survive the cold. While the quest to achieve a permanent home has not yet been abandoned by refugees, they are forced to settle for temporary shelters that are ill-suited for the winter weather.

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