Humanitarian Groups: EU-Turkey Refugee Plan Puts Women, Children in Prison Camps
Michela Whitton, The Anti MediaMichaela Whitton March 23, 2016 (ANTIMEDIA) United Kingdom —
The E.U.-Turkey deal to stem the mass arrival of refugees and migrants to Greece — and further into Europe — came into effect this week. New arrivals to so-called “hotspots” will now be automatically subject to the new return policy, which calls for “irregular migrants” crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands to be returned to Turkey. For every Syrian returned to Turkey, another will be resettled in the E.U.
The reality on the ground, however, is that refugee reception centres have rapidly become chaotic prison camps where people are being held behind barbed wire fences, without clear information about what is happening to them. Volunteers are banned from assisting, while the authorities appear clueless about how to register and manage the new arrivals, let alone determine who is “irregular” and who is not.
As a result, international agencies are refusing to play ball. On Tuesday the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced it would not assist in transporting migrants and refugees arriving in Greece to the new detention centres. It said it refuses to be involved in returns or detention, adding that Greece is not prepared to implement the deal properly and may send refugees back to Turkey without properly assessing their asylum claims.
According to UNHCR, more than 147,000 people, many fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Asia, have arrived by sea in Greece this year. The vast majority of those making the perilous journey are in need of international protection, and over half the arrivals in Greece have been women and children. On the Greek mainland in Idomeni, an estimated 12,000 people — including 4,000 children — live in a tent city close to the Macedonian border. There have been daily protests at the squalid camp since the return policy was announced, and one man was hospitalised earlier this week after setting himself on fire out of desperation.
At a press briefing in Geneva on March 22, UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming expressed concern that people are being held against their will. She said the E.U.-Turkey deal is being implemented before Greece has the correct safeguards in place.
“In line with our policy on opposing mandatory detention, we have suspended some of our activities at all closed centres on the islands,” she added.
“The situation is so bad. No blankets, no place to sleep. They don’t talk to us, they don’t give us milk for children, and the food is bad. We are in a place like a prison, although we didn’t do anything wrong. We don’t get medical supplies and no doctor comes to see us, and they don’t give us any clothes or blankets. We sleep on the floor” — Young female refugee at the Vial Hotspot, Chios, Greece.
Prior to the E.U.-Turkey deal, arrivals to Lesvos were free to leave Moria camp and take ferries to the Greek mainland. Most would then head north via the Balkans in the hope of reaching western Europe, particularly Germany. As a result of the new system, hundreds of new arrivals are now being held in detention centres pending the outcome of their asylum applications.
As reception facilities turn into deportation facilities, esteemed humanitarian organisation, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also suspended its work in Moria. The international medical organisation said continuing its activities would make them complicit in an unfair and inhumane system.
On Tuesday, it ceased all activities linked to the Moria hotspot, including transporting refugees to the center, providing water and sanitation, and operating the medical clinic inside it. The organisation will continue operating its transit center in Mantamados, offering assistance to new arrivals, including its sea rescue assistance and mobile clinics on the island of Lesvos.
Marie Elisabeth Ingres, MSF Head of Mission in Greece, said the decision was an extremely difficult one to make, but that the organisation could not be complicit in the inhumane system:
“We will not allow our assistance to be instrumentalized for a mass expulsion operation and we refuse to be part of a system that has no regard for the humanitarian or protection needs of asylum seekers and migrants,” she said.
Meanwhile, volunteers on the Greek island of Chios claim there is no tap water or baby food. They say parents are crying for food for their children and claim people are sleeping on cardboard in a former military base near a huge dumpsite.
There is no media or press in sight, and volunteers are banned from entering the prison camp, so food and supplies are thrown over the fence. What is most alarming about their reports is that refugees in Vial have no access to asylum services, as there is no official representation there.
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