Human Rights Groups Say Greece Can’t Deal With Refugee Crisis

Αssociated Press

FILE - In this photo taken on Thursday, March 16, 2017 piles of life jackets used by refugees and migrants lie at a dump in Molyvos village, on the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos. The diplomatic spat this week between Italy, Malta and France over who should take responsibility for more than 600 people rescued at sea shows that the biggest challenge Europe faces today is migration. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis, File)

The United Kingdom based humanitarian relief agency Oxfam and 24 nongovernmental organizations have written European leaders asking for a different approach to dealing with migrant and noted that the situation in Greece, overrun with more than 70,000 migrants and refugees is “unsustainable.”

The letter was sent on March 14, just ahead of the third anniversary of a swap deal the European Union signed with Turkey that has largely been suspended, seeing the numbers coming to Greece falling but with Turkey taking back only a relative handful.

The groups - as they and others have done previously - said the deal has led to “policies and practices in Greece that are short-sighted, unsustainable, ineffective and dangerous,” said Kathimerini in a report.

“The EU is allowing people to be trapped in appalling conditions while trying in vain to return them to Turkey. European leaders are neglecting their responsibility to protect people fleeing war and persecution – instead they need to be supporting people at their most vulnerable,” Renata Rendon, Oxfam’s head of mission in Greece, was quoted as saying.

“Currently, around 12,000 people – twice the maximum capacity – have been forced to spend the winter in overcrowded reception and identification centers, sleeping in unheated tents or containers with limited access to running water and electricity,” the letter said.

“They are exposed to violence, harassment and exploitation, without proper security or protection. These terrible conditions are due to the European policy of trapping asylum seekers in EU hotspots in the Greek islands, rather than hosting them in locations on the European mainland,” it added.

The EU, as has Greece, has ignored pleas, entreaties, demands and reaching out by groups anxious to find a more humanitarian approach after the bloc shut its borders to the refugees and migrants and dumped the problem mostly on Greece during its own long-running economic crisis.

The NGOs called on Europe's leaders to “agree urgently” on new measures that will more equally distribute the responsibility for asylum seekers between its member-states, ensuring that the conditions they are subjected to at accommodation and processing facilities are “decent and dignified.”

They also called on Greece to “immediately suspend the restriction of movement that traps” migrants and refugees on the islands, and to ensure that the available EU funding is properly spent on “essential services such as medical and legal services.”

More than 15,000 are stuck in detention centers and camps on Greek islands that human rights groups have said are inhumane and as officials and residents have complained in vain to the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA for more help.

EU migration chief Dimitris Avramopoulos, a veteran New Democracy politician, said he can’t make other countries live up to pledges to help take in an overload and won’t take them to court because it’s too politically sensitive.