Athens, Greece, November 27, 2019 — Five years on from the height of the refugee crisis, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has once again been compelled to visit the Greek island of Lesvos where thousands of asylum seekers remain trapped in dangerous living conditions.
The Commissioner, who last visited the island in 2016, saw for himself the devastation caused by shortsighted policies that have left thousands of people unprotected and unsupported, while they wait for their asylum claim to be processed. Despite the newly elected government’s efforts to decongest the islands, continuous arrivals, coupled with a containment policy and slow asylum procedures, have forced thousands of men, women and children who have fled their homes to seek sanctuary in Europe, to live in flimsy tents in the midst of winter, with limited access to health and sanitation services.
Following the recent adoption of a new asylum law that significantly restricts rights, recent proposals by the Greek government to create closed camps to house thousands of asylum seekers across the Greek islands, including Lesvos and Chios where the IRC provides humanitarian support, would have catastrophic consequences for people seeking protection in Greece.
This is a European issue that requires a European response. Greece cannot be expected to deal with this issue alone. The situation on the islands demonstrates that a European response that focuses only on borders and returns, without first putting in place measures to ensure responsibility-sharing, fair and efficient asylum processing and an ambitious integration plan, will result in vulnerable people paying a high price for political inaction. With a new European Commission in place today, the time is right for fresh political momentum to agree a comprehensive, effective and values-based European asylum system.
The International Rescue Committee has joined 16 other NGOs to call on Commissioner Grandi, urging him to use his influence with the Greek government and to advocate for safeguarding the right to asylum, for meaningful access to health care for all asylum seekers and refugees in Greece and for the protection of unaccompanied children.
Dimitra Kalogeropoulou, IRC Greece Director said:
“We welcome the Commissioner’s visit to Lesvos today so that he can see for himself the dreadful conditions people seeking protection in Europe continue to endure. His very presence should wake up European leaders to the severity of the situation here and the damage that shortsighted migration policies are having.
At a time when Greece is witnessing a downturn in the protection of asylum seekers trapped on its shores, the government’s proposals to replace existing reception centres with closed centres will mean that people, including children, may be living in prison-like conditions, without having committed any crime. Put simply, these proposals show disregard for human rights.”
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.