While the arrivals of migrants via the eastern Mediterranean route has dropped almost completely since 2015, there are still thousands of people living in squalid conditions in camps in Lesbos and other Greek islands waiting for their asylum applications to be processed. Greek journalists have been arrested for reporting on mismanagement of EU-funded food for refugees.
Asked at the press briefing in Brussels today (8 October) to comment on the freedom of press in Greece, the chief spokesperson of the Commission said that, “I’m very happy to repeat our position that no journalists should be arrested for doing their job”.
According to press reports, the journalists had been arrested for reporting on alleged misuse by the Greek Defence Ministry of EU funds amounting to €52 million and intended for providing food to the refugees.
The press office of OLAF, the Commission’s anti-fraud agency, confirmed to The Brussels Times that OLAF has opened an investigation into alleged irregularities concerning the provision of EU-funded food for refugees in Greece following information submitted by the Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME) to OLAF in 2017.
“As the investigation is ongoing, OLAF cannot issue any further comment at this stage,” the press office said. “This is in order to protect the confidentiality of on-going and possible ensuing investigations, subsequent judicial proceedings, personal data and procedural rights.”
Camp Moria on Lesbos was described by The New York Times last week as a “camp of around 9,000 people living in a space designed for just 3,100, where squalid conditions and an inscrutable asylum process have led to what aid groups describe as a mental health crisis”.
According to the newspaper, the overcrowding is so extreme that asylum seekers spend as much as 12 hours a day waiting in line for food that is sometimes mouldy. Last week, there were about 80 people for each shower, and around 70 per toilet, according to the newspaper.
At today’s press briefing, a Commission spokesperson confirmed that the Commission is monitoring the situation in the camps and has visited them. “Our visits don’t go beyond examining the fact that Commission funded projects are taking place. It’s up to OLAF to investigate alleged misuse of funds and we cannot comment on their investigations.”
The spokesperson added that thousands of refugees have already been moved from Camp Moria to the mainland of Greece.