The European Union’s deal with Turkey to return “irregular” migrants has led to policies and practices in Greece that are short-sighted, ineffective and dangerous, 25 organizations including Oxfam said on Thursday, ahead of the deal’s third anniversary on Monday.
In an open letter to European leaders, they said that as many as 20,000 people have been stranded in unsafe, unhygienic and inhumane conditions in EU camps on the Greek islands in 2018.
There are currently around 12,000 people – twice the maximum capacity – living in overcrowded reception centres, often in unheated tents and containers with limited access to running water and electricity. They are exposed to violence, harassment and exploitation, without proper security or protection.
These terrible conditions are due to the European policy of trapping asylum seekers in EU “hotspots” on the Greek islands, rather than hosting them in locations on the European mainland where better facilities are more widely available, the groups said.
As a result, the number of asylum applications in Europe has dropped while in Greece they have increased significantly over the last three years. In Lesvos, the number of asylum applications more than tripled to over 17,000 from 2016 to 2018.
Renata Rendón, Oxfam’s Head of Mission in Greece, said: “The EU is allowing people to be trapped in appalling conditions while trying in vain to return them to Turkey. European leaders are neglecting their responsibility to protect people fleeing war and persecution – instead they need to be supporting people at their most vulnerable.”
Oxfam and the other organisations are calling on EU leaders to:
- Agree on fair and sustainable arrangements for sharing responsibility for asylum seekers arriving in Europe, that will ensure member states’ ability to provide decent and dignified conditions.
- Urge Greece to immediately suspend the restriction of movement that traps asylum seekers to the Greek islands in squalid and dangerous conditions, putting unfair pressure on the islanders.
- Ensure Greece spends the available EU funding on essential services such as medical and legal services.
- Support the planning of a fair and efficient asylum system and a long-term, sustainable reception and integration plan for refugees in Greece.
The EU-Turkey Deal was signed on 18 March 2016
The full list of signatories to the open letter is as follows: ActionAid Hellas, Amnesty International, Avocats Sans Frontières France, Boat Refugee Foundation, Caritas Hellas, CEAR – Comisión Española de Ayuda al Refugiado, Danish Refugee Council, DIOTIMA – Center for Research on Women’s Issues, Equal Rights Beyond Borders, Greek Council for Refugees, Greek Helsinki Monitor, Human Rights Watch, International Rescue Committee, JRS Europe, JRS Hellas, Legal Center Lesbos, Mare Liberum, Médecins du monde – Greece, Oxfam, Praksis, Refugee Legal Support, Refugee Rights Europe, Solidar, Solidarity Now, Terre des hommes Hellas. [reliefweb]