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Walling Off Welcome: New reception facilities in Greece reinforce a policy of refugee containment and exclusion

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45 civil society organisations urge EU institutions and national governments to abandon policies that contain people seeking asylum at Europe’s borders and to instead facilitate asylum seekers’ social inclusion and subsequent integration. They must fulfil their commitments to share responsibility for ensuring displaced people’s adequate reception and protection, in line with EU and international law and reverse the extension of containment policies represented by the new reception facilities under construction. Where new or adapted structures are already in place, measures must be taken to ensure that they create conditions that meet EU and international standards.
A true show of EU solidarity would build bridges between communities, not walls.

In early September 2020, the Moria Reception and Identification Centre (RIC)—Europe’s largest and most notorious refugee camp—located on the Greek island of Lesvos, burned to the ground in a devastating fire that left thirteen thousand people displaced.1 EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson responded to the tragedy by acknowledging that Europe had to provide better reception for displaced people seeking protection.
Emphasising that there should be “no more Morias” and that the bloc needed a “fresh start” on migration, European Commission leaders presented an EU Pact on Migration and Asylum2 that purported to offer a regional solution to the failures of the existing approach.

Simultaneously, a European Taskforce3 was established not only to “resolve the emergency situation on Lesvos” but to implement a joint pilot with the Greek authorities for the establishment of new reception facilities—these would be “in line with the framework proposed in [the Pact]” and could thus serve as a model for the region. But one year later, this fresh start has not come. Greece and the European Union (EU) remain focused on deterrence and containment policies rather than the effective protection of those in need.

With financial and technical support from the European Commission, Greek authorities are constructing fences and concrete walls around existing camps, building closed camps in remote locations on the Aegean islands, and introducing legislation to further restrict the freedom of movement in and access to camps. These walls are a physical manifestation of containment policies adopted by the EU and its Member States to isolate asylum seekers away from local communities. By reinforcing such policies, they seriously risk impeding the effective identification and protection of vulnerable people; limiting access to services and assistance for asylum seekers; hindering independent monitoring of conditions inside facilities; and exacerbating the harmful effects of displacement and containment on individuals’ mental health. Moreover, these policies are likely to preclude displaced people’s integration in local communities, to their detriment and that of Greece.