Four years into EU-Turkey deal, suffering has reached unimaginable levels, say Oxfam and Greek Council for Refugees

18 March 2020

The European Union’s latest row with Turkey will aggravate what is already Europe’s worst humanitarian disaster, Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) said on Wednesday. The EU-Turkey deal, struck exactly four years ago, has resulted in approximately 40,000 people seeking asylum being trapped in appalling conditions in the five EU ‘hotspot’ refugee camps on the Greek islands. This is more than six times the official capacity of the camps.

In a new report on the situation in the EU ‘hotspot’ camp of Moria in Lesbos, Oxfam and GCR call on Greece to provide emergency services and support to the people trapped on the islands. Nothing can justify the indiscriminate detention of people seeking asylum, and Greece should not deny them a safe place during the current health crisis, nor send them back to situations where their lives and freedom are at risk.

Oxfam and GCR also called on the Greek government to cancel its plans to build new detention-like camps on the islands, and on EU member states to help end the suffering on the islands by sharing responsibility for people seeking asylum in Europe.

Spyros-Vlad Oikonomou, GCR advocacy officer, said:

“This is a humanitarian crisis for people fleeing violence, persecution and war. The current situation is a direct consequence of the EU-Turkey deal, which turned people in need of safety and dignity into political bargaining chips. This puts fundamental human rights second to political gain and is an unacceptable violation of both international and EU law.”

In their new report, Oxfam and GCR highlight the conditions in the Moria EU ‘hotspot’ where almost 20,000 people are now crammed into the refugee camp on the small Greek island of Lesbos, nearly seven times the official capacity. More than two in five people living in the camp are children, 60 per cent of them younger than 12 years old and 15 percent are there without a family member.

Fear, insecurity and the prolonged stay in unsafe conditions have a strong impact on children’s mental health in Moria. Nearly all of them have survived wars, persecution, and a long and dangerous journey, only to be severely traumatised by the EU’s ‘hotspot’ camps – and to be illegally denied access to healthcare at the same time. On March 13, the Greek government announced that, due to the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, it will suspend all asylum procedures until Friday, April 10.

“Greece’s recent decision to indiscriminately detain refugees, deny access to asylum and send them back to often dangerous situations, puts people in need of safety and dignity, including families and children, at great risk,” said Oikonomou.

GCR and Oxfam also expose how the Greek authorities had already started detaining all people arriving on the island of Kos, for the entire duration of their asylum procedure. This includes families with very young children, vulnerable asylum-seekers who need urgent medical and/or psycho-social support, and survivors of gender-based violence.

“The refugees detained upon arrival in Kos don’t have access to medication or care, they are stuck in limbo and are not even told why they are detained”, said Oikonomou. “With new closed refugee camps on all Greek islands under construction, this is a worrying glimpse into the future.”

“In the past weeks some EU member states have pledged to relocate up to 1,500 unaccompanied children from Greece,” said Raphael Shilhav, EU migration expert at Oxfam. “While the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis is creating many uncertainties about the future, it is crucial that governments continue to protect the most vulnerable and keep to their promise to offer children safe conditions at this time.”

GCR and Oxfam call for a U-turn in the migration policies of Greece and its EU partners. The current situation and repeated anti-migration rhetoric from EU leaders in Brussels and in EU capitals have contributed to the narrative that migrants are a threat and fomented racism across Europe. In the past weeks, refugees and humanitarian workers have been attacked on the Greek islands, and essential aid services forced to close.

European governments must work together and share responsibility for those arriving in Europe by relocating asylum seekers to other safe places in Europe, Oxfam and GCR said.

 

Notes to editors:

  • Spokespeople are available in Athens (English, Greek) and Brussels (English).
  • The “Lesbos Bulletin” is a two-monthly update on the situation in the EU ‘hotspot’ refugee camp of Moria, Lesvos.
  • All asylum seekers who arrived in Greece since July 2019 are denied access to Greece’s public healthcare system.
  • All asylum seekers who arrived in Greece since 1 March 2020 are denied access to asylum. As of 13 March, the asylum service stopped all registrations, interviews, submissions, etc. This measure is crucial for protecting the health of the staff of the Asylum Service and of people seeking asylum. At the same time, it means that asylum seekers will stay even longer in Greece’s refugee camps and in detention.
  • People in the refugee camps on the Aegean islands do not have access to sufficient toilets, showers or warm water. Most of them are already in a weakened and vulnerable physical state due to their terrible living conditions, and in addition they have very limited access to even basic healthcare. Leaving people trapped in these unsanitary and unsafe conditions is not just a violation of human rights, it also opens up the possibility of a devastating health crisis if COVID-19 reaches these camps. They should be evacuated immediately.
  • Greece is obliged to respect the principle of non-refoulement, the cornerstone of international refugee protection. It prevents the return or expulsion of a refugee “in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” (Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention).
  • Greece passed a new, regressive asylum law last year, which allows for an increased use of detention for asylum seekers, for prolonged periods of time – which may be extended for up to a period of three years – with more limited remedies for detainees. The government also announced that it will replace the existing EU ‘hotspot’ camps on the Greek islands with ‘closed’ or ‘controlled’ de-facto detention centres.
  • GCR and Oxfam say that Greece must restore access to asylum as soon as possible. In addition, Greece, with the support of the EU, must send more expert staff to the Aegean islands, including doctors, psychologists and child psychologists, to ensure that all people seeking asylum receive at least emergency medical and psychosocial care upon arrival. Greece must also urgently allow people seeking asylum to leave the islands and create new safe and dignified long-term accommodation for them on the mainland.

Contact information:

Danae Leivada | Athens | Αυτή η διεύθυνση ηλεκτρονικού ταχυδρομείου προστατεύεται από τους αυτοματισμούς αποστολέων ανεπιθύμητων μηνυμάτων. Χρειάζεται να ενεργοποιήσετε τη JavaScript για να μπορέσετε να τη δείτε. | office +30 210 3800990 

Florian Oel | Brussels | Αυτή η διεύθυνση ηλεκτρονικού ταχυδρομείου προστατεύεται από τους αυτοματισμούς αποστολέων ανεπιθύμητων μηνυμάτων. Χρειάζεται να ενεργοποιήσετε τη JavaScript για να μπορέσετε να τη δείτε. | office +32 2 234 11 15 | mobile +32 473 56 22 60

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