UNHCR Joins Call for Greece to Move Refugees to Mainland

FILE - In this Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017 file photo, migrants from Syria walk towards a refugee camp at Kokkinotrimithia, outside of the capital Nicosia, in the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias, File)

ATHENS – While the government has ignored pleas from activists to move more than 15,000 refugees and migrants off Aegean islands to the mainland as winter has set in, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has joined the chorus.

Human rights groups said the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, which has been criticized even by party members for the government’s handling of a refugee crisis, needs to speed the asylum process and get the refugees and migrants out of island detention centers and camps critics said aren’t fit for humans.

Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas though said he can’t transfer them to the mainland where there are already another 50,000 being detained because it would break a suspended European Union swap deal with Turkey, which continues to let human traffickes send them to Greek islands, most of those fleeing war and strife in the Middle East.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he was “proud” of the conditions for the refugees and migrants before video emerged showing they were living in rubbish and feces-strewn grounds with toilets not working and frequent clashes between groups and with riot police.
Under pressure from island officials, Mouzalas agreed to move the most vulnerable, more than 1000 women and children and those with disabilities but hundreds of unaccompanied minors remain in the island camps.

The UNHCR, which didn’t say why the United Nations doesn’t take a greater role as it has in the past sped food and supplies and accommodations to other refugees around the world but not Greece, demanded solutions and better conditions.

asked Greek authorities today to speed up the registration and transfer of immigrants on the Greek islands to mainland.

Since mid-October, the UNHCR has supported the transfer of about 6,000 asylum seekers to mainland Greece, but more than 1,700 immigrants have arrived in the Greek islands in December and only a relative handful of those deemed ineligible for asylum have been returned to Turkey.