The European Union’s deal with Turkey to control migration and return “irregular” migrants has led to policies and practices in Greece that are short-sighted, unsustainable, ineffective and dangerous, say Oxfam and 24 other NGOs ahead of the deal’s third anniversary.
In an open letter to European leaders, Oxfam and other NGOs say that as many as 20,000 people have been stranded in unsafe, unhygienic and inhumane conditions in EU camps.
Currently, around 12,000 people – twice the maximum capacity – have been forced to spend the winter in overcrowded reception and identification centers, sleeping in unheated tents or 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” in the Greek islands, rather than hosting them in locations on the European mainland, the groups say.
As a result, while the number of asylum applications in Europe has dropped, asylum applications in Greece and on the islands have increased significantly over the last three years. In Lesvos, the number of asylum applications more than tripled to over 17,000 in 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 – they instead need to be supporting people in their most vulnerable moment.”
Marion Bouchetel, Advocacy Officer for Oxfam in Greece, said: “These policies are putting undue pressure on Greece while the responsibility should be shared more fairly. We are calling on EU leaders to end these unfair and unnecessary policies.”
Oxfam and the other NGOs are calling on European Union leaders to:
- agree urgently 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 and sustainable reception and integration plan for refugees in Greece.
Notes to Editors:
- Spokespeople are available in Athens and Lesvos.
- Read the open letter signed by Oxfam and 24 other organisations.
- The EU-Turkey deal was announced on 18 March 2016 and implemented from 20 March 2016.
- Oxfam has recently published the report “Vulnerable and abandoned”, exposing how pregnant women, children and survivors of torture are let down in Greek camps as the screening system to identify and protect the most vulnerable people has broken down due to chronic understaffing and flawed processes.
- Oxfam has been working in Lesvos since 2015, running a program that aims to ensure that people seeking asylum are protected. This includes training community focal points to provide information, running workshops at a day center for women, and providing legal aid and social support through partners for people seeking asylum.