Thursday

23rd May 2019

Analysis

EU praises Turkey on migrant deal despite Greek misery

The European Commission has praised a migrant deal between EU states and Turkey but remained silent on the plight of those caught up in the misery of the Greek islands.

Paraskevi Michou, a Greek national who earlier this month took over the head of the commission's migration branch, on Tuesday (20 March) listed all its achievements in Turkey following a March 2016 deal to stem refugee flows towards Greece.

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She noted over one million Syrian refugees in Turkey had received emergency social safety nets to cover basic needs.

She said another million have had access to primary health care consultations, that 18,000 pregnant women have have had post natal health care services, and that schools have been built, all thanks to some €3bn in EU funding.

Speaking alongside Turkey's ambassador to the EU, Faruk Kaymakci, at an event co-hosted by the European Policy Centre and Germany's Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Michou then praised Ankara for its support in helping stem the flows.

"I would like first of all to thank the Turkish authorities," she said, noting that the EU deal with Turkey would not have materialised without their support and work.

"We have succeeded, we have succeeded to substantially reduce irregular and dangerous crossings and saving lives," she told the audience.

Kaymakci echoed similar appraisals and described the joint migrant deal "as the most positive agenda item in terms of EU relations."

Next week in Bulgaria

The comments come ahead of an EU-Turkey meeting next week in Bulgaria where authorities are hoping to renew strained relations with Ankara, which is pressing to have short-stay visas lifted on its nationals.

But the praise also raises questions on how humanitarian aid is being used as political leverage - possibly weakening the EU institutions in its deliberations with Turkish authorities and its hardline president, according to some human right defenders.

Such issues may feed into the discussions this Thursday among leaders at a EU summit in Brussels.

One toilet for 500 refugees in Moria

But diplomatic speeches also stand in sharp contrast to the thousands living in abject misery on the Greek islands where the EU has helped launched so-called hotspots to screen and register stranded migrants.

The EU has channelled close to €1bn to the Greek authorities, yet is unable to produce similar results like those in Turkey, posing questions on why there is only one toilet for every 500 migrants stuck in the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.

Only 34 percent of the required number of places for the around 3,000 unaccompanied minors in Greece are available, some two and half years after the country received EU funds to help the children.

Island clashes

While Michou's boss, EU migration commission Dimitris Avramopoulos, was last week updating reporters in Brussels on its broad migration policies, people in Moria the very same day were rioting as 200 women and children were evacuated to a nearby warehouse.

"Our team treated eleven people, among them small babies and pregnant women," said Doctors without Borders following the clashes with the police.

Michou made no mention of the human toll on the Greek islands, most notably that women and children live in fear of physical and sexual abuse, while others attempt suicide.

Aside from the precipitous drop in arrival numbers, her only other comment demanded that Greece step up returns to Turkey. "I only hope that with our support we will manage to have better streamlined processes," she said.

Lots of money, few results

The reality on the ground in Greece was instead described by Manolis Vournous, mayor of the Greek island of Chios.

When this website asked him why conditions remain so dire, despite all the EU funding, he both blamed the Greek administration system and inflated prices for everyone involved.

"We do not make the policy and we do not even implement them, we are just addressing auxiliary consequences," he said.

Refugees Deeply, an investigative media portal, last year attempted to untangle the EU funding in Greece. It noted big aid organisations demanded large salaries, when compared to local workers, causing resentment. This came ontop of protracted Greek efforts to set up a managing authority to tap the EU fund.

Despite the extensive funding to Athens, Vournous said local islanders are becoming more eurosceptic and that Europe has turned "many centuries backwards" by turning the islands into large detention camps.

"There is not enough information being given out, there is not enough information for migrants and immigrants, what exactly is happening, which are their options," he said.

EU-Turkey migrant deal redundant, rights chief says

Nils Muiznieks, human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe watchdog, said people would no longer cross into Greece from Turkey due to difficulties getting further - regardless of the EU migrant deal with Ankara.

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