To mark the occasion of the second anniversary of the EU-Turkey Joint Statement (Deal, in essence), yesterday we held, along with other NGOs, a joint press conference titled: “Two years after the EU-Turkey Deal: a humanitarian tragedy for refugees and asylum seekers”.
The press conference was hosted at the Journalists’ Union of Athens Daily Newspapers (ΕΣΗΕΑ). Participants included journalists, as well as representatives of EU embassies, state institutions, and civil society organizations. The conference speakers covered the main aspects of the refugee issue from a humanitarian, legal, and political perspective.
Jenny Cavounidis, Board member of SolidarityNow, underlined the absence of a coherent strategy for a coordinated and holistic refugee response at both national and European level. Ms. Cavounidis conveyed the experience of SolidarityNow about the problems brought upon by the EU-Turkey Deal and its ongoing consequences on the overall management of the refugee response in Greece.
Ms. Cavounidis underlined “the urgent need for a holistic response to the problems arising from the refugee issue, with a central, visionary, and long-term planning for the whole country”. She also stressed:
“This past winter we experienced once more the lack of a central mechanism for refugee management on the islands. Despite the deplorable conditions in the islands’ camps since the summer, and although the number of residents way exceeded each camp’s capacity, the decongestion of the islands started to take place only when the situation hit rock bottom due to the worsening weather conditions. Then, in November, the Government rushed to transfer people to the mainland, to hosting facilities that were urgently created or adjusted, without proper planning”.
The Director of Amnesty International/Greek section, Gabriel Sakellaridis, and Eva Cossé, Researcher for Greece for the organization Human Rights Watch, analyzed the current situation on the islands for the asylum seekers and refugees stranded there two years after the Deal, stressing the need to lift the geographical restriction.
From a medical care perspective, Agapios Terzidis, Vice-President of the Board of the Hellenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO), presented the program Philos (Emergency Health Response to Refugee Crisis) and the challenges faced by KEELPNO during its implementation.
Vasileios Papadopoulos, Coordinator of the Legal Unit of the Greek Council for Refugees, set out the legal effects of the EU-Turkey Deal. Mr. Papadopoulos emphasized the need to move refugees and migrants from the islands to the mainland, while he also explained that the presumption that Turkey is a safe third country is highly problematic, both from a legal and political perspective.
Yonous Muhammadi, President and Coordinator of the Greek Forum of Refugees, and the cultural mediator Yasaman Heidarpour from the organization Melissa Network, talked about the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees on the Greek islands. In particular, Ms. Heidarpour told her own story as a refugee who reached Europe after fleeing Iran.
*The conference was organized by the following NGOs:
Amnesty International – Greek section
Greek Council for Refugees
Greek Forum of Refugees
Human Rights Watch