Friday

18th Jun 2021

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).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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.

Interview

Turkey will not give in to EU on refugee laws

Turkey will not change its laws to appease EU demands to increase protection of asylum seekers and will refuse any oversight on how it applies its rules, its EU ambassador says.

EU-Turkey deal gets reality check

The EU-Turkey deal that came into force on Sunday has not deterred migrants crossing the Aegean sea on its first day. But it raises many questions as Greek and Turkish legal frameworks still need to be set up.

Smuggled migrants to leave Greece from Sunday onward

EU-Turkey accord to see rejected asylum applicants sent back to Turkey and an equal number of Syrian refugees to be resettled in the EU. Much will depend on Greece's capacity to deliver.

Greece begins migrant deportations to Turkey

Greece has started sending back migrants to Turkey under the EU deal. The German interior minister suggests similar agreements might be necessary in northern Africa.

Europe needs to help sea rescues, say NGOs

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, along with Ecre, a Brussels-base NGO, have proposed a plan to increase sea rescues. The call comes ahead of an EU summit later this month among EU heads of state and government.

EU rejects UN blame for migrant sea deaths

Last week, the UN high commissioner for human rights said the EU and its member states are partly responsible for making the central Mediterranean more dangerous for asylum-seeker hopefuls. The EU rejects that - despite evidence suggesting otherwise.

EU defends Spain, after thousands enter Ceuta enclave

Spain has warned of a "serious crisis" for Europe after some 6,000 people entered Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco. The European Commission has voiced its support for Spain as diplomatic tensions with Rabat heat up.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. AstraZeneca must deliver 50m doses by September or face fines
  2. Next week is time for EU to finally lead on rule of law
  3. Austria blocking EU sanctions on Belarus banks
  4. Number of people forcibly displaced reaches historic high
  5. Three-quarters of EU citizens support vaccines, survey finds
  6. NGOs: Leaked EU biomass reform 'denial of science'
  7. US and Russia restart talks on cyber and nuclear war
  8. Europe needs to help sea rescues, say NGOs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us