ATHENS – Greece opening the doors to Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion while keeping those from other countries – predominantly non-Christian – in detention camps for two years or more is unacceptable, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
That was also in response to Migration Minister Notis Mitarachis saying that the Ukrainians, many of whom share an Orthodox religion with Greeks, were “the real refugees,” essentially shunting aside from Syria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, sub-Saharan Africa and others.
“What he was trying to say was that the people fleeing devastating conflict and persecution in Afghanistan, Syria, and other countries who are coming to Greece are not,” real refugees, HRW’s Western European Researcher Eva Cosse said.
Greece has said the refugees and migrants reaching its shores since 2015 are “irregular migrants,” because they have first used Turkey as a jumping-off point to try to get to the European Union before it closed borders to them.
That left most coming to Greece, primarily five islands near Turkey’s coast, with Turkey allowing human traffickers to keep sending them during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU.
Under the EU’s Dublin Regulation, refugees can only seek asylum in the first country in which they land, meaning the bloc’s biggest and most prosperous countries, like France and Germany, are unreachable to them.
Greece said refugees and migrants should seek asylum in Turkey instead, with thousands in Greece waiting two years or more for their applications to be processed and locked down.
But Cosse said that, “The concept of ‘first country of asylum’ only applies if the first country of arrival is a ‘safe’ country, that is willing and able to provide refugees and asylum seekers effective protection,” and that Turkey isn’t.
Despite Greece’s claims, Turkey does not meet the EU criteria for a safe third country to which an asylum seeker can be returned, she insisted, with Greece now also accused by human rights group of pushing back refugees and migrants.
Under the swap deal, Turkey is supposed to take back those deemed ineligble for sanctuary in Greece – but has mostly reneged – and HRW said some 150 Syrians sent back there were the deported to Syria.
“Greece is right to show solidarity with refugees fleeing Ukraine. But this moment should prompt a fundamental shift in Greece’s approach to dealing with people fleeing similar conflicts in other parts of the world and an end to Greece’s violent and abusive border polices that put refugees in harm’s way,” she also said.