Friday

22nd Mar 2019

Asylum conditions on Greek islands 'untenable'

  • Conditions in Greece for refugees and asylum seekers remain dire (Photo: MSF)

Conditions for asylum seekers on Greek islands are "untenable", says the European Commission, amid a heavy snow fall that has left many exposed to the freezing weather.

Refugees woke up to snow covered encampments, such as Moria on Lesbos island, without heating over the weekend despite recent assurances from the Greek government that nobody would be left out in the cold.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Asked to comment by reporters in Brussels on Monday (9 January), the commission said it was ready to help fund accommodation centres but that the Greek government was responsible for the camps.

"We can no more dictate policy in Greece than we can in any other member state," said commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud.

"I have to be quite clear here, the commission is aware that the situation is untenable but we also have to be clear as I was saying that ensuring adequate reception conditions in Greece is a responsibility of Greek authorities,” she added.

Lesbos island has borne the brunt of the refugee inflow into Greece.

Brawls between Afghan and Syrian detainees, fires, and clashes with Greek far-right protesters are among the struggles faced by those who fled war to get to the islands.

The number of migrants on the islands now counts over 15,600 people.

Bertaud's comments follow statements made last week by Greek asylum minister Yiannis Mouzalas, who promised that everyone would be kept warm.

“There are no refugees or migrants living in the cold anymore. We successfully completed the procedures for overwintering," he said at the time.

Greek figures from earlier this month say over 6,000 are stuck on Lesbos, an island designed to accommodate only 3,500, with many sleeping in thin UN refugee agency (UNHCR) tents. Around 1,000 are living in tents.

Dublin returns to Greece

Bertaud's comments also follow internal moves by Germany to start sending back asylum seekers to Greece as part of a broader EU commission plan to resume so-called Dublin returns to the country in mid-March.

Germany's interior minister Thomas de Maiziere, in a letter sent last week to his administration and seen by EUobserver, wants them to start working out plans how to dispatch people back to Greece following the EU commission's 15 March deadline.

Dublin is an EU asylum law that largely places the burden of processing asylum seeker claims on the country where they first entered.

Returns to Greece were banned in 2011 following two judgments by the European Court of Human Rights and another by the European Court of Justice, due in part, to the poor treatment of people by Greek authorities.

With many asylum seekers having entered into Greece before heading further north, many EU states are piling on the pressure to start sending them back.

Some 180,000 arrived on the Aegean islands from Turkey last year alone despite an EU-Turkey deal that curbed flows, when compared to 2015.

Turkey deal

The Turkey deal was struck shortly after borders were closed along the Western Balkan routes. It means tens of thousands are now stuck on the Greek mainland.

Dublin returns to Greece, under the EU commission plan launched last December, will only apply to those who arrive after March and has warranted major concern among human right groups.

"From our perspective, our partners and members in Greece, the situation in Greece is simply not adequate for returns to be reinstated," Catherine Woollard, who heads the Brussels-based European council on refugees and exiles (Ecre), told this website.

The Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog Council of Europe is probing the issue of returns to Greece.

Last month it warned against the resumption of Dublin transfers.

A lead member of the Council of Europe, Tineke Strik, had described the EU commission's Dublin plan and March deadline as "astonishing."

Suffering

Ecre's Woollard drew similar conclusions.

"To prematurely reinstate Dublin transfers is not going to ensure compliance with EU law, it is just going to lead to the suffering of people concerned," she said.

But the commission argues that the resumption of transfers is partly justified given pledges by EU states to relocate at least 3,000 per month from Greece as of April.

Latest figures provided by the EU commission in early December projected some 900 would be relocated for the last month of 2016.

Opinion

EU cannot copy Australia's offshore asylum model

European policy-makers are increasingly talking about emulating Australia's offshore asylum system, but that system is morally bankrupt, prohibitively expensive and politically disastrous.

EU migrants sneaking into US from Mexico

Almost 1,000 Romanian nationals were caught trying to sneak into the United States in 2017, of which around half attempted to cross via Mexico. Nationals from countries like Hungary and the UK were also intercepted.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  3. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  6. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us