Tuesday

20th Aug 2019

Aid agencies suspending operations in Greece

  • Around 12,000 people are stuck in squalor at the Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek side of the border with Macedonia (Photo: Fotomovimiento)

An increasing number of aid agencies in Greece are partially suspending operations in protest at the conditions of detained and stranded migrants seeking asylum.

The move follows the launch of an EU-Turkey deal to stem the flow of irregular migration to the Greek islands on Sunday (20 March).

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The plan hinges on rapidly returning smuggled migrants back to Turkey in the hope of discouraging others from taking a similar journey.

But Human Rights Watch on Thursday (24 March) said a humanitarian crisis was unfolding at the Athens port of Piraeus, where thousands of asylum seekers and migrants are stranded.

“The suffering in Piraeus is a direct consequence of Europe’s failure to respond in a legal and compassionate way to the crisis on its shores," said Eva Cosse, Greece specialist at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

The rights watchdog estimates around 5,000 men, women, and children are at the port.

There are reports of fights between Afghan and Syrian men and mounting fears of sexual harassment and violence against women and children.

“Here there is no security. I take my children with me wherever I go," said one 27 year-old Syrian woman.

Similar complaints were heard elsewhere with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) earlier this week saying the so-called hotspots where arrivals are screened and registered on the Greek islands have turned into detention centres.

The UNHCR has since refused to transport people to the centres, noting Greece is not prepared to handle the case loads under the EU-Turkey deal.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the Norwegian Refugee Council and Save the Children have also pulled out.

"We took the extremely difficult decision to end our activities in Moria (on Lesbos) because continuing to work inside would make us complicit in a system we consider to be both unfair and inhumane," said Marie Elisabeth Ingres, MSF's head of mission in Greece.

Amnesty International accused Turkey of forcibly returning around 30 asylum seekers to Afghanistan "just hours after the European Union-Turkey refugee deal came into force".

Migrants 'safe in Turkey'

Turkey has in the past rejected allegations that it forcibly returns asylum seekers, and says it is now in the process of negotiating a readmission agreement with Afghanistan.

"We don't push these people back that is why there are safe in Turkey right now," Turkey's ambassador to the EU Selim Yenel told this website on Monday (21 March).

Turkey hosts some 2.7 million Syrian refugees and hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis.

Yenel noted that Syrians with a temporary asylum status are entitled to benefits, like healthcare, and will also be able to work.

He said that while Afghans and Iraqis are not entitled to employment in Turkey, they are protected.

He noted complaints about the rights of Afghans and Iraqis in Turkey only began to surface late last year.

"Where were all these NGOs asking about the rights of the Iraqis and the Afghans, they weren't doing it then, and now they are asking for it when they return?" Yenel said.

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