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A broken asylum system: one unwilling and unable to welcome Afghan refugees

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While European leaders express their concern for the safety of people in Afghanistan, little concern is given to those Afghans seeking safety in Europe. A new Greek ministerial decision to stop Afghans, amongst other nationalities, from entering Europe, and dire living conditions in “Moria 2” highlights this lack of concern, as criticised in the latest edition of the Lesbos bulletin by the Greek Council for Refugees and Oxfam.

In the Mavrovouni site on Lesbos, known as “Moria 2”, Afghans make up 63% of the population. In June, the Greek government decided that Afghans, along with Syrians, Somalians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis, could be returned to Turkey even if they are refugees. On 16 August, the day following the fall of Kabul, the Greek Migration Minister, Notis Mitarachi, said that “Greece may not become a gate of entrance” for Afghans. This contradicts existing obligations to welcome those seeking safety.

Vasilis Papastergiou, Legal expert at Greek Council for Refugees said:

“Greece’s decision to ban Afghan refugees, among others, from Europe is immoral. Not only does it fly in the face of international and European law, it prevents people from being able to move on with rebuilding their lives. Through a technical manipulation of their registration, these people are denied the most basic help and are thrown back into turmoil.

“In one case GCR worked on, the Greek authorities refused to look at an Afghan family’s application for asylum. Rather than examining it, as European migration law dictates, they made the unfounded decision that, despite only spending four days in Turkey before entering Greece, the family must be returned. This is notwithstanding the fact that Turkey is refusing returns from Greece since 2020 which means this family is now stuck in Lesbos.

“This is not an isolated case. Hundreds of people in ‘Moria 2’ are now in limbo while asylum seekers are used as political bargaining chips.”

This week also marks a year since the fire that burned down the notorious Moria camp in Lesbos, and the promise of “No More Morias” by EU Commissioner, Ylva Johansson. Yet, for refugees living in the hastily constructed and temporary “Moria 2”, the living conditions are as dire as ever. The European Court for Human Rights has recently said the Greek authorities failed to ensure that the camp lived up to European standards. The heatwaves this summer also highlighted the abysmal living conditions, and the Greek government’s lack of preparation means that, for the sixth year in a row, many people will spend the winter in tents.

The lack of security measures in the camp also puts women at risk. A recent survey showed that single women express their fears around getting water or using the showers and bathrooms after dark. Measures such as installing proper lighting, examining the possibility of building toilets closer to the single women’s section of the camp and upping women security presence would make this temporary camp safer for women.

Erin McKay, Oxfam’s European Migration Campaign Manager said:

“The Greek government has openly said it wants to deter, rather than welcome people. This decision has resulted in people who are seeking safety living in slum-like conditions. How the EU intends to reconcile this reality in Europe with their expressed aim to help people rebuild their lives is unclear.”

Notes to editors

Read the September edition of the Lesbos bulletin, an update on the situation on the Greek islands.

Spokespeople are available in Athens and Lesbos (English, Greek) and in Brussels (English).

In June, the Greek authorities decided to designate Turkey as a safe third country for people applying for asylum originating from Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Pakistan or Bangladesh. According to official data, applicants from these five countries represented 65.8% of applicants in 2020.

The European Court for Human Rights recently affirmed on 19 July 2021 that living conditions in Mavrovouni (“Moria 2”) camp continue to fall below EU legal standards.

The survey was conducted by the international organisations and NGOs operating in Lesbos.

Contact information

Jade Tenwick | Brussels | jade.tenwick@oxfam.org | mobile +32 473 56 22 60
Ira Papadopoulou | Athens | i.papadopoulou@gcr.gr |+30 210 3800990 (ext. 102)