ATHENS – Greece is unjustly denying 625 refugees and migrants on the island of Lesbos, in violation of European Union laws, Human Rights Watch charged, as the government closed its borders to hold down new waves trying to flood the islands and cross land borders.
The new arrivals came between March 1-18 after the government said anyone who entered after March 1 would be deported to their homelands although they had come from Turkey, which allowed human traffickers to keep operating during an essentially-suspended 2016 swap deal with the EU, which had already closed its borders to them.
Nearly 200 are being detained on the island in unacceptable conditions, a report from HRW said, adding they were not even being allowed to apply for asylum as the government tries to deal with overwhelming numbers seeking sanctuary.
Greece is holding about 100,00 refugees and migrants, including about 42,000 on five islands near Turkey, the New Democracy government cracking down after saying it would accelerate asylum applications that can take two years or more to process and that deportations would also be stepped up.
The refugees and migrants went to Turkey fleeing war and strife and poor economic conditions in their countries, wanting to get to Greece to seek asylum. The 625 new arrivals were arrested while crossing to three Greek islands from the Turkish coast and were being held in a facility in northern Greece where they are required to remain pending deportation, authorities said.
With the COVID-19 virus spreading in the country and worries it could be especially prevalent among the refugees and migrants, Red Cross doctors Red Cross doctors took each arrival’s temperature and asked them about recent bouts of the flu. There has been no information as to their health status.
The migrants are from a wide array of countries in Asia and Africa. Authorities would not provide a breakdown, but officials said on condition of anonymity that the arrivals did not include Iraqis or Syrians who are considered refugees with priority for asylum.
While 436 have been transported to the Malakassa center in Athens, where conditions are unknown, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch, Belkis Wille, told Turkey’s Anadolu Agency that, “We don’t know the conditions there because so far we don’t know any group that has gotten access.”
She noted the Council of Europe’s European Committee for the Prevention of Torture just completed a five-day rapid reaction visit to Greece to examine the way asylum seekers and refugees have been treated by authorities.
“For up to two weeks, the authorities have been holding women, men, and children – many of them fleeing war and persecution – in the open in cold temperatures, denying their right to seek asylum and preventing them from getting the humanitarian and legal assistance they need and are entitled to,” Wille said in the report, according to the Anadolu story.