France has offered assistance to the return of rejected asylum seekers, combatting “illegal immigration” and the relocation of 400 asylum seekers from Greece. In 2019, 70,000 people have arrived in Greece and the critical situation on Greek islands, hosting 40,000 people in overcrowded camps with a capacity of just 5,400, is worsening.

Referencing a letter from French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner proposing collaboration between the two countries on matters of migration and asylum, French Ambassador to Greece Patrick Maisonnave stated: “Within the next few months, France will take in 400 people who have entered Greek territory. We want to help Greece in a practical manner to deal with the increased migration flows of recent months… For individuals whose [asylum] applications have been rejected, we will carry out, in cooperation with Greece and Frontex, group flights to their countries of origin.” Maisonnave also proposed assistance in combatting “illegal” migration and support on the ground in the form of increased presence of French experts, interpreters, doctors and psychologists.

Recent reports from Oxfam, Greek Council for Refugees (GCR) and Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) confirm the grave situation on the Greek islands including the lack of access to legal information to navigate the asylum process, systematic violations of basic rights and severe overcrowding. According to RSA there are now 7,600 people inside and around the Samos hotspot with an official capacity of 648 people. The organisation states: “At least 3.500 individuals (including many vulnerable) are forced to live in tents or makeshift shacks with very little protection from the weather conditions and lack of essential access to WASH facilities and basic relief items.” Further, the inhabitants including children suffer from lack of medical resources and access to education, 1,600 children having no regular education.

As of December 15, a total of of 71,368 people (14,312 by land and 57,056 by sea) have arrived in Greece in search of protection. The total number of arrivals in 2018 was 50,508 while the number at the peak of arrivals in 2015 was 861,630.

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Photo (CC): Alex Griffioen September 2006

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.