Today’s move by the European Commission towards increasing support to Greece following a sharp increase in the arrival of refugees on Greece’s Aegean islands is a step towards supporting Greece and the many vulnerable people seeking refuge in Europe, said Amnesty International today.
The organization however also warned of the urgent need for the Commission to call for the European Union (EU) member states to increase safe and legal routes so those in need of protection can reach Europe safely.
“The crisis unfolding on the Greek islands shows how the authorities are incapable of meeting the needs and protecting the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, as the increase in arrivals by sea to the islands have pushed an already struggling reception system beyond breaking point,” said Iverna McGowan Acting Director for Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.
“But we can’t forget that migration touches not just Greece but the entire European Union. As such, an EU response is urgently needed. Today’s measures announced by the Commission, if correctly channeled towards those in need, may help support the country and vulnerable people. But overall a broader rethink of EU asylum policies and practices is needed.”
Today the Commission recalled its approval last week of national funding programmes for Greece that amount to EUR474 million. However, with 124,000 refugees and migrants arriving by sea this year, mainly to the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros, financial assistance is not the overall solution. Amnesty International is urgently calling on the Commission and the EU member states to ensure that adequate operational assistance is provided to Greece and other frontline member states for the processing of asylum applications and to support the reception of refugees and asylum seekers. Beyond short term responses to the unfolding crisis on the Greek island, a longer term approach to responding to the world refugee crisis is needed.
“Whilst assistance measures to Greece, if correctly implemented, may take some pressure off the islands in the short term, what is urgently needed is a broader rethink of EU asylum responses to ensure that those in need of protection can access the wider European territory safely and securely. This means more safe and legal routes into Europe for refugees, including more resettlement places, together with the provision of greater freedom of movement for refugees” said Iverna McGowan.
According to UNHCR, as of 31 July, the number of arrivals had increased over of 750%. Lesvos is the island with the highest number of arrivals. Between 1 January and 10 August 2015, 70,374 refugees and migrants have arrived on the island. The majority of them come from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Amnesty International has just concluded a research mission on the island.