Athens, Greece, June 23, 2021 — Greece has declared Turkey a safe country to return refugees who have fled Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria in a move that could see thousands of asylum seekers be forcibly relocated away from Europe.
Children and teenagers are among those for whom this could spell disaster, and the majority of new arrivals in Greece this year (77%) are from this newly created so-called ‘safe list’ of countries that are facing an uptick in conflict or are becoming increasingly unstable. This includes Syria, where the war continues to rage after a decade, and Afghanistan, which is currently experiencing an increase in violent clashes between security forces and armed groups as well as attacks on civilians.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) provides support to 37 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Athens through its Supported Independent Living programme, designed to give them independence and the skills necessary to be able to integrate fully into their new communities once they turn 18. Of those children supported by this programme, 30 are from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria, which shows just how far-reaching this policy is and how many unaccompanied children are affected.
Meanwhile, in Lesvos, the IRC provides child protection services to children and families, including psychological and mental health support. Of all the children our teams support, 82% are from countries affected by this new rule.
Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, IRC Greece Director, said,
“The IRC is gravely concerned for those who are in imminent danger of being returned to Turkey as a result of this new rule, and especially worried for the unaccompanied children who stand to have their safety and future jeopardised. There are 3,300 unaccompanied children in Greece, almost 70% of whom are from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria, and it is imperative that they are provided support in Greece and not turned away.
“By designating Turkey a safe country for those fleeing large scale conflict and crises, the Greek government has shown that it is doing all it can to turn away as many people in clear need of protection as possible. The majority of asylum claims that are accepted in Greece are from people who are of nationalities on the ‘safe list’. This new rule is a transparent attempt by the government to deny protection to those who need it most.
“The countries whose nationals are eligible for return to Turkey include some of the worst humanitarian crises where there is active conflict, exploitation and abuse, and food insecurity. IRC teams in Afghanistan have reported growing insecurity and a shocking uptick in violence against civilians, while the rights of women and girls hang in the balance.
“Meanwhile, Syria is undergoing its tenth year of active conflict and more than 6 million people have been displaced as a result of ongoing violence.
“This move is yet another step away from a Europe that welcomes - one that instead refuses refugees and ignores their courage and contributions to society and - ultimately - turns its back on humanity.”
The IRC began operating in Greece in 2015, when Europe was experiencing a peak in migration. What started as an emergency response on the island of Lesvos quickly expanded to Thessaloniki and then to camps on the mainland. Currently, the IRC operates in Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Athens. In 2019, the IRC launched a child protection programme for unaccompanied children in Athens. The programme consists of 15 apartments where 60 children between 16-18 can be supported to live independently. In September 2020, the IRC expanded programming in Lesvos to respond to the urgent needs of children in the wake of the fire that destroyed Moria to carry out case management services to children now living in the new camp.
The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.