London, UK, March 14, 2019 — The European Union’s deal with Turkey to control migration has led to policies and practices in Greece that are unsustainable and ineffective, says the International Rescue Committee and other NGOs on the deal’s third anniversary.
The International Rescue Committee has joined other NGOs in an open letter to European leaders that says that as many as 20,000 people have been stranded in unsafe conditions in EU camps at any given time.
One such camp is Moria, a reception centre on the island of Lesvos that is overcrowded and dangerous. Outbursts of violence are common and a shortage of dignified sanitation facilities mean that people are too afraid to go to the toilets after dark or use the showers. The desperate conditions in which people are obliged to live in Moria are avoidable, with short-sighted European policy contributing to the current situation.
While asylum seekers have been contained in EU “hotspots” in the Greek islands, rather than hosted in locations on the European mainland, asylum applications have increased significantly in the last three years. In Lesvos, the number of asylum applications has tripled to over 17,000 in 2018, and this is unsustainable.
Jana Frey, Country Director for IRC Greece said:
IRC teams working on the ground in the islands of Lesvos and Chios face the impact of the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal on a daily basis. The trauma that refugees have endured in their homes and on their journey to Europe is often unimaginable, with two thirds of IRC clients from Moria having considered suicide as a result. Uncertainty about their futures, and, miserable conditions in the hotspots including frequent violence and insecurity and limited access to essential services compound this trauma.
Imogen Sudbery, Acting Director for Advocacy for IRC Europe said:
The Justice and Home Affairs Council last week was yet another missed opportunity for the EU to agree on a way to share responsibility, reunite families and relocate vulnerable asylum seekers out of first arrival EU countries. It's shameful that a few countries are preventing agreement on these urgently needed reforms. This is a Europe-wide issue, and countries such as Greece should not have to shoulder responsibility on their own. The IRC will continue to push for this, as well as the expansion of safe and legal routes to Europe for refugees seeking protection.
The IRC and the other NGOs are calling on European Union leaders to:
- Agree urgently on fair and sustainable arrangements for sharing responsibility for asylum seekers arriving in Europe, that will ensure member states’ ability to provide decent and dignified conditions.
- Urge Greece to immediately suspend the restriction of movement that traps asylum seekers to the Greek islands in squalid and dangerous conditions, putting unfair pressure on the islanders.
- Ensure Greece spends the available EU funding on essential services such as medical and legal services. Support the planning of a fair and efficient asylum system and a long term and sustainable reception and integration plan for refugees in Greece.
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.