Amnesty Group Projects Refugees Welcome Message on Acropolis

(Photo: Amnesty International)

Amnesty International said it was behind projecting a light image on the side of the Acropolis stating Humanity First, Refugees Welcome, as a stunt to draw attention to the March 18 third anniversary of an essentially suspended swap deal between the European Union and Turkey which has seen more than 70,000 stuck in Greece.

“Three years after the EU-Turkey deal was implemented, it is vital that this call for humanity is seen not just across Athens, but across the whole of Europe,” said Fotis Filippou, Campaigns Director for Europe at Amnesty International.

“The situation facing thousands of migrants and refugees on the islands is a scar on the conscience of Europe. Anyone looking up at the Acropolis can see thousands of years of civilisation. Anyone who’s looking towards the refugee camps on the Greek islands will see that our leaders have learnt nothing.

“It is time for our leaders to put humanity first. They must end the tragedy thousands of people are facing as a result of the EU-Turkey deal and act now to ensure that those trapped in abject misery on the islands are finally moved to safety on the mainland and on to other European states,” the group added.

The swap deal was instituted in 2016 as hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war and strife in the Middle East, especially Syria’s civil war, went to Turkey as a jumping-off point to reach more prosperous EU countries before the borders were shut to them.

That has seen more than 70,000 abandoned in Greece, with 15,000 on islands near Turkey which has continued to let human traffickers send more, although in lesser numbers, and with Greece and the EU blaming each other for not doing more to deal with the problem.

Most of those in Greece, locked out of the EU, are seeking asylum, overwhelming the ability to deal with them as many have been in camps and detention centers for two years or more in facilities human rights groups, including Amnesty International, said were unfit.

Amnesty said the deal was supposed to show cooperation and return ineligible asylum seekers although only about 1 percent have. Instead, the group said, “What ensued in practice is a containment policy, trapping people in the Greek hotspots for extended periods of time,” and little hope of seeing a quick resolution.

The group said most of those in camps in islands such as Lesbos, Samos and Chios are staying in overcrowded camps, many sleeping in unsuitable tents and containers, facing risks to their safety and security. The camp on the island of Samos  houses more than 4,000 people, a number exceeding its capacity by more than five times, it added.

The deal was supposed to see one Syrian refugee sent to an EU country for every one returned from Greece to Turkey but the group said figures show only over 8,000 resettlements of Syrians have been carried out in 2018, while around 3.6 million remain in Turkey. Out of 32,494 total sea arrivals to Greece in 2018, returns to Turkey amounted to only 322.