An agreement between European states and the Turkish government, which was designed to decrease the arrival of refugees has instead trapped tens of thousands of people in appalling conditions, Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees said today, four years on from the signing of the deal.
People seeking asylum in Europe have been stuck in dire conditions in EU ‘hotspot’ refugee camps on the Greek islands, which have become desperately overcrowded. In Moria camp, on the small Greek Island of Lesbos, almost 20,000 people are crammed into a refugee camp with an official capacity of just over 3000. The threat of COVID-19 has made the situation even more precarious.
Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees are calling on the Greek government to provide emergency services and support to the people trapped on the islands and to cancel plans to build new detention-like camps. They are also calling for other European countries to help end the suffering on the islands by sharing responsibility for people seeking asylum in Europe.
Spyros-Vlad Oikonomou, advocacy officer for the Greek Council for Refugees, 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.”
Raphael Shilhav, Oxfam’s European Migration expert, said: “Nothing can justify the indiscriminate detention of people seeking asylum, and Greece should not deny them a safe place, especially during the current health crisis in Europe. Nor should they send people back to situations where their lives are at risk.
“While the 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.”
Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees said that fear, insecurity and the prolonged stay in unsafe conditions are having a huge impact on the mental health of children who are stuck in Moria camp. More than 40 percent of those residing in the camp are children, with three in five of them less than 12 years old. Some are there without any family and nearly all have experienced war, persecution and a long and dangerous journey. Many are illegally denied medical help and healthcare. The Greek government has announced that, due to the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, it will suspend all asylum procedures until 10 April.
Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees also found that Greek authorities have started detaining anyone 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.
Spyros-Vlad Oikonomou said: “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.
“With more closed refugee camps on all Greek islands under construction, this is a worrying glimpse into the future.”
While in past weeks some European countries have pledged to relocate up to 1,500 unaccompanied children from Greece, Oxfam and GCR said European governments must work together and share responsibility for those arriving in Europe by relocating asylum seekers to places that are safe.
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