17 July 2015

As UNHCR highlighted, Greece is facing an unprecedented refugee emergency, with 1,000 people arriving on the Greek islands daily over the latest weeks. Deutsche Welle and other media reported that during the first week of July alone 9,000 refugees and migrants, mostly Syrians, reached the island of Lesvos. UNHCR called on member states to show solidarity and therefore welcomed the commitment expressed by EU Member States to resettle 20,000 refugees to the EU and relocate 40,000 people in need of protection within the EU.

The above mentioned situation, combined with the deteriorating economic situation of the country puts pressure on small island communities, which lack the socioeconomic infrastructure to respond to the growing humanitarian needs.

“The reports about the situation of asylum seekers and refugees arriving in Greece are alarming. ECRE member agencies, the Greek Council for Refugees and Aitima, confirm that the situation is rapidly becoming untenable and that there is a need for increasing support on the ground to accommodate and assist the newly arriving. This disturbing situation is happening at a time when the country is going through uncertainty at all levels and the financial and economic crisis in Greece is unprecedented. European civil society must play a constructive role and proactively identify operational solutions to assist the Greek authorities and NGOs. Immediate solidarity is needed to avoid further deterioration of the situation and a rise of xenophobia in a situation in which the Greek population itself is under great suffering,” says Michael Diedring, ECRE’s Secretary General.

German ECRE member Pro Asyl calls for immediate humanitarian aid in Greece and legal ways for refugees to travel to other European countries. “The situation on the Aegean islands is out of control. The European Union and the rich Member States stand by while a humanitarian crisis is about to turn into a humanitarian catastrophe,” said Karl Kopp, Pro Asyl Director of European Affairs, after a fact-finding mission to Greece.

“Decisive and coordinated crisis interventions in Greece are urgently needed now. All available crisis funds, emergency response and civil protection mechanisms need to be activated swiftly to counter the humanitarian crisis in Greece. In addition to EU funded emergency relief, countries in central and northern part of the EU must quickly permit legal travelling of protection seekers from Greece,” he added.

Another ECRE member, the International Rescue Committee, is deploying a team to the Greek island of Lesvos to provide refugees there with urgently needed access to water and sanitation. The organisation is also calling on European countries to support refugee relief efforts.

“We are an NGO focused on the victims of conflict in the poorest countries in the world, from Niger to Afghanistan to the Middle East, yet Europe’s inability to support Greece means we have to send staff to the richest region in the world,” IRC President David Miliband said. “Europe is setting an example to the rest of the world – of exactly the wrong kind.”

With these insanitary and overcrowding conditions of people detained on the Greek islands, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Greek and EU authorities to come up with a plan ensuring adequate reception conditions and access to basic healthcare. It also called on Greek authorities to facilitate the processing of families with children, including unaccompanied children, and to avoid detaining children, in compliance with recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.  In addition, HRW calls on the EU to provide financial assistance to the Greek government to achieve these goals and for EU countries to agree to take generous numbers of asylum seekers from Greece, under the relocation scheme.

UNHCR and the Greek Council for Refugees, having expressed their concerns for the well-being of refugees, who have had to walk up to 60 kilometres through the mountains to reach the islands’ main town, welcomed the recent amendment in Greek legislation. According to the new law, citizens will not be penalised for rescuing people at sea, for transferring people in need of international protection and for transporting people inside the country in order for them to apply for asylum.


This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 17 July 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.