Greece: Urgent Need to Move Asylum Seekers from Islands

Giorgos Moutafis for SolidarityNow

As Winter Begins, Accelerate Transfers, End Containment Policy

Athens, December 21, 2017. More than 13,500 asylum seekers remain trapped on the Greek islands in most deplorable conditions as winter begins today, December 21st, SolidarityNow states. Greece, with support from its EU partners, should urgently transfer thousands of asylum seekers to the Greek mainland and provide them with adequate accommodation and access to fair and efficient asylum procedures.

The Greek government committed in early December that it would move 5,000 asylum seekers from the islands to the mainland as an emergency measure, before the onset of winter. Despite the transfer of almost 3,000 people since early December, the hotspots on Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Leros, and Kos still have 11,005 people in facilities with a total capacity of just 5,576. More than 1,000 people have arrived to the Greek islands during the same period.

Αfter the recent incidents in Moria’s camp, resulting in pregnant women and children being injured, the transfer of the population to the mainland, becomes even more urgent. Under these circumstances, we welcome the Greek Government’s decision to promptly move thousands of people to better conditions on the mainland as an emergency measure, however much more needs to be done to improve the situation for refugees in the country. Greece, with the support of the EU and its member states, has to act immediately and protect the human rights of the people arriving at Europe’s borders”, stated SolidarityNow.

In a campaign that began on December 1st, 13 human rights and aid organizations called on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, to end Greece’s policy of containing asylum seekers on the islands. The groups said that Greek authorities should immediately transfer people to improved conditions on the mainland and take concrete measures before the official start of winter so that no asylum seekers are left out in the cold. The groups also said that other EU leaders should take a clear stand to end the containment policy that keeps asylum seekers trapped on the islands under an agreement with Turkey to send people refused asylum back there.

SolidarityNow and other groups participating in the campaign will continue campaigning throughout the winter, highlighting the deplorable conditions asylum seekers trapped on the islands face. The groups will press the Greek government and EU leaders for a more effective response that protects the rights and reduces the suffering of asylum seekers arriving in Greece.

The Greek government is expected to introduce a bill in Parliament in the coming days to accelerate the asylum process with the aim of expediting returns to Turkey, under the EU-Turkey deal. While the length of the asylum procedure is one factor contributing to people’s distress on the islands, reducing the length of asylum procedures at the expense of the quality of the process would put asylum seekers at risk of being denied the protection they need, SolidarityNow said.

Such an approach is the wrong way to alleviate overcrowding or address the systemic issues linked to the containment policy and EU-Turkey deal that have created this inhumane situation on the islands. Any reform should ensure that asylum seekers have access to fair and efficient asylum procedures that allow for all asylum claims to be fairly examined on their individual merit.

Organizations Participating in the Campaign:
Amnesty International
Caritas Hellas
Greek Council for Refugees

Greek Forum of Refugees
Help Refugees
Human Rights Watch
International Rescue Committee
Jesuit Refugee Service
Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR)
Terre des Hommes