Thursday

27th Feb 2020

Asylum seekers stuck in Greece in dire conditions

  • Over 12,000 aslyum seekers wait at the Greek-Macedonian border in dire conditions (Photo: Fotomovimiento)

Greece has vowed to step up efforts to move people from the makeshift camp on the Macedonian border in Idomeni, as fears of disease rise and an image emerged of a baby being washed in a puddle.

Greek authorities have been handing out leaflets to tell the 12,000 people stuck at the Idomeni camp, thousands of them children, that the Balkan route to Germany is closed and convince them to move into better-equipped camps.

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But the people are becoming increasingly desperate and are waiting for EU leaders to find a solution to the crisis when they meet on Thursday and Friday (17-18 March).

Greek minister for refugees Dimitris Vitsas vowed to move people fleeing war and persecution in the Middle East to more permanent reception centres within a week.

The Greek authorities transferred 400 people to reception centres on Friday.

According to EU plans, Greece should have capacity for 50,000 people in the reception centres, 10,000 more than currently available.

The spread of infection became a concern in the filthy conditions of the camp with one person in a sprawling tent city diagnosed with hepatitis A.

Scuffles broke out over the weekend as people scrambled for food and firewood in the makeshift camp with many sleeping in the open.

"We are seeing human misery at its peak in Europe. These conditions here at the Idomeni border site are just unliveable," Babar Baloch, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, was quoted as saying by AFP.

"It has just gone beyond imagination how bad it can get and each day we are getting more rain, people are suffering.”

Morally flawed

EU leaders are meeting later this week to sign off a deal agreed last Monday that would see Turkey take back asylum seekers from Greece in exchange for the EU taking refugees directly out of Turkey.

The EU has said it would add a further €3 billion to the initial €3 billion it has already promised to pay Turkey to care for the refugees.

It has also promised visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens by the summer, and open negotiating chapters for EU accession, measures that are highly controversial among EU members.

Making the EU-Turkey deal and the exchange of people legal also remains a challenge.

Under international law, asylum cases need to be examined individually where they were submitted.

The EU-Turkey deal would go around that by making Turkey a “safe” third country under a bilateral Greek-Turkish agreement, thus making sending back migrants legal.

Human rights groups are alarmed by the emerging EU-Turkey agreement.

"It's flawed, morally and legally," Amnesty International secretary general Salil Shetty told Reuters in Dubai.

Shetty is to meet France's interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve and European Council president Donald Tusk this week "to directly express our shock and outrage at what they are coming up with."

Shetty said: "They are saying it does not breach EU law because Turkey is a safe country. By what stretch of the imagination is Turkey a safe country for these people?"

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