WASHINGTON—The situation for asylum seekers on the Greek islands is rapidly deteriorating. Twelve days ago, an unaccompanied Afghan child was killed and two others injured in a fight. It is just the latest incident in the overcrowded and tense Moria reception center on Lesvos, Greece, where on Aug. 29, 16 boats carrying more than 600 asylum seekers arrived—the most since early 2016.
Many of the Reception and Identification Centers (RICs) like Moria are overcrowded, with appalling living conditions and poor security. This is unacceptable. And while Refugees International welcomes the Greek government’s decision earlier this week to transfer almost 1,500 asylum seekers from Moria to shelters on the Greek mainland, it is not enough. Refugees International calls for three steps to be taken immediately:
The Greek government should effectively use the more than €2 billion provided by the European Union (EU) to immediately improve the conditions for asylum seekers on the islands.
The Greek government should regularly transfer large numbers of asylum seekers from the Aegean islands to safe and appropriate accommodations on the mainland, relieving congestion in the RICs and allowing space for new arrivals.
EU countries should fast-track family reunification for the approximately 1,100 unaccompanied children on the islands and in detention centers throughout Greece. When these children have no family ties inside the EU, the Greek government should work with other European countries to quickly find suitable living arrangements elsewhere in Greece or the rest of the EU.
Refugees International is also deeply concerned over reports that the Greek government plans to eliminate the appeal process for asylum seekers. The appeal process helps ensure that the broader asylum system results in accurate and fair decisions. Individual asylum officers and asylum seekers can make mistakes during an initial claim, so it is vital that asylum seekers be allowed to appeal their cases and to do so with legal representation.
Furthermore, Refugees International is alarmed that the Greek government, with the backing of the EU, plans to increase deportations to Turkey or to refugees’ countries of origins. Every country has a right to control its borders, but Greece should meet its obligations under international law. Most asylum seekers who have arrived this year are from Afghanistan where, the UN says, “in the first six months of 2019 armed conflict continued to inflict significant harm on the civilian population, killing and maiming thousands, displacing families from their homes, and impacting essential services.” Deportation to such conditions is unconscionable.
Greece has welcomed far more asylum seekers than the rest of Europe and Refugees International commends Greece for those efforts. But now is not the time to reverse course and enact restrictive and oppressive policies for people seeking safety in Europe.