After observing the practical implications of the 18 March Agreement between the European Union (EU) and Turkey, put into effect on 20 March, NRC has determined that it is no longer possible to implement humanitarian activities at Vial so-called ‘Hotspot’ in Chios, which has now become a detention facility. NRC will, accordingly, suspend a number of activities at Vial ‘Hotspot’. This includes the provision of site management support functions, direct distribution and the maintenance of water and sanitation services. NRC will handover and transfer these activities in a responsible manner and in cooperation with the responsible Greek national and local authorities.
However, while NRC will not and cannot be associated with any system designed to facilitate return and detention, it has decided to continue maintaining an interim protection presence at the Vial ‘Hotspot’ in order to provide information and ensure that arrivals are able to exercise their right to seek fair asylum procedures. Since Sunday, over 1100 new refugees and migrants have continued to arrive to Chios - the second largest refugee island arrival location in Greece. NRC has observed that these arrivals are occurring at the Vial ‘Hotspot’ in conditions of confusion, uncertainty and without the provision of accurate information pertaining to their legal rights. The responsible Greek authorities, including the police, are also unclear about their role and responsibilities and lack necessary guidance and support to manage the ‘Hotspot’ facility. These conditions risk exacerbating tensions and giving rise to future security concerns if left unaddressed.
While recognising the need of European countries to manage the ongoing refugee and migrant crisis, NRC considers that the implementation of the provisions in the EU-Turkey Agreement are now giving rise to a situation in which people seeking international protection are actively being denied the right to access asylum procedures and the ability to be treated fairly, with respect and to be hosted in conditions of human dignity.
Principally, NRC considers its ability to operate at Vial ‘Hotspot’ is now compromised by the following new realities on the ground:
As of 20th March, the Vial ‘Hotspot’ on Chios has changed from an open registration facility into a closed detention centre. This had fundamentally altered the operating environment for NRC at the Hotspot. With the ‘Hotspot’ now operating as a closed facility and the accompanying closure of the three former open accommodation sites, NRC is unable to work under the new terms. As a police-run detention facility, NRC does not have adequate humanitarian access to the refugees detained there in order to provide protection, respond to their needs and ensure their reception requirements are being met. NRC strongly opposes mandatory detention in this context and believes that it is a wholly unnecessary and disproportionate measure.
The current reception conditions at the Vial ‘Hotspot’ are inadequate, not in line with recognised humanitarian standards and risk causing harm to the refugees. NRC observes that the rapid pace and speed with which this deal has been put into effect has not allowed the responsible Greek authorities adequate time to react and respond to the changes. NRC is especially concerned at the detention of children and other vulnerable groups at the Vial ‘Hotspot’ and considers the overall reception conditions to be inappropriate. Since 20th March, over 1100 refugees have arrived, yet it appears no contingency arrangements are in place to safely and decently accommodate further arrivals. NRC is concerned that when the capacity is reached (1200), the refugees and migrants will risk being detained in overcrowded, unsafe and undignified conditions for indeterminate periods of time.
The protection needs of refugees arriving in Chios after 20th March have been disregarded and their information needs are not being met. The Agreement references safeguards and makes explicit the expectation that respect of international and European law will frame the implementation arrangements at island level. Yet, NRC has not observed any evidence of these safeguards being applied in practice at the Vial ‘Hotspot’. As of today, there is insufficient capacity and support in place to enable refugees to have their asylum claims assessed fairly and thoroughly on an individual basis and in a manner that ensures no harm in the event of readmission to Turkey. NRC is also concerned that the lack of capacity to process asylum claims will result in prolonged detention stay arrangements for the new arrivals and potentially give rise to a situation in which expedited asylum processes will mean quality assessments being denied to those with protection needs. NRC notes that refugees arriving and being hosted at Vial Hotspot are currently not routinely receiving protection information on the rights and procedures to seek asylum.
NRC is liaising with the Greek First Reception Service to respond to their immediate requests for support and will ensure a responsible handover, including training where necessary or requested. NRC will also maintain a presence on Chios to support local authorities, volunteers and other humanitarian actors in responding to the emergency needs of newly arrived refugees and migrants. We are exploring how to extend support to shoreline assistance operations. Finally, NRC is currently undertaking an assessment on mainland Greece with a view to extending its humanitarian services there, particularly in the areas of site and camp management support in the new open sites that are accommodating refugees.