Amnesty International lambasts ‘hypocritical Brussels’ as pressure mounts on Greece

The European Commission wants Greece to start receiving back migrants from other member states whilst speeding up migrant returns to Turkey

Families from war-torn Syria were among the refugees which Greece sent back to Turkey
Families from war-torn Syria were among the refugees which Greece sent back to Turkey

Amnesty International has lambasted the “hypocritical” position adopted today by the European Commission who wants Greece to start receiving migrants from other member states, in a bid to stop asylum seekers from moving north.

The European Commission today published a fourth report on the progress made in the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal and on relocation and resettlement schemes.

Whilst noting the “substantial fall in the number of crossings” since the activation of the deal, the European Union’s executive argued that “the pace of returns from Greece to Turkey is too slow”.

“It seems that for the European Commission all roads for refugees lead to Greece. It is outrageously hypocritical of the European Commission to insinuate that Greece alone is to blame for dire conditions, when the overcrowding and insecure climate on the Greek islands are for the most part caused by the EU-Turkey deal, and compounded by the lack of solidarity from other EU countries to relocate people,” Iverna McGowan, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institution’s Office, said.

“Asylum-seekers on the Greek islands face overcrowding, freezing temperatures, lack of hot water, violence and hate-motivated attacks. While we have long called for reception conditions to improve, forcing refugees to stay on the islands only so that they can be returned to Turkey, in line with Turkey’s interpretation of the deal, is inhumane. Pressure on Greece must be immediately alleviated, not increased.”

Amnesty International said that to alleviate pressure on Greece, asylum seekers should urgently be transferred from the islands to the mainland, whilst reuniting them with their families in other countries.

“Relocation to other European countries who have committed to take refugees from Greece should be sped up,” Amnesty International said.

The European Commission’s fourth progress report has warned that there is “no scope for complacency”: “Successful implementation depends mainly on the political determination of all sides to take the necessary actions”.

It blamed deteriorating conditions on the Greek islands as being caused by returns which are “too slow and at a lower level than arrivals”.

“This needs urgent concerted action by the Greek authorities, EU Agencies and the Member States,” the executive argued, adding that Greek authorities need to ensure that the asylum decisions can be taken swiftly, as well as to step up the pace of returns.

The Commission reminded that the EU has allocated over €2.2 billion of the €3 billion Facility for Refugees in Turkey and €677 million has now been disbursed.

Since September, 170 persons who entered Greece through Turkey have been returned to Turkey. In total, 1,187 irregular migrants were returned from Greece to Turkey in the course of 2016 under the EU-Turkey Statement or the Greece-Turkey bilateral readmission protocol, out of which 95 Syrians.

Despite the Commission’s own admission that the situation on the Greek islands is deteriorating, it adopted its fourth recommendation on the resumption of Dublin transfers to Greece as a step towards “a normal functioning” of the rules of the Dublin system.

“The Commission finds that Greece has made significant progress in putting in place the essential institutional and legal structures for a properly functioning asylum system. However, the resumption has to take account of the fact that Greece is still facing high migratory pressure and that deficiencies in the Greek asylum system remain, in particular as regards reception conditions, the treatment of vulnerable applicants and the speed with which asylum applications are registered, lodged and examined.”

The Commission wants transfers to Greece to be resumed gradually, on the basis of individual assurances from the Greek authorities for each returnee, guaranteeing they will be received in dignity.

“In order to avoid that an unsustainable burden is placed on Greece, the resumption of transfers will not be applied retroactively and will only concern asylum applicants who have entered Greece irregularly from 15 March 2017 onwards or for whom Greece is responsible from 15 March 2017 under other Dublin criteria. To support the efforts of Greece, the Commission calls on all Member States to fully comply with their relocation obligations and to ensure sufficient deployment of asylum experts to Greece.”