What Greece really is

The overall human rights situation in Greece is challenging to say the least. Economic hardship and austerity measures adopted in response to the financial crisis have had a devastating impact on human rights, including the rights to work, social security and health, and curtailed fundamental freedoms in the country.

The dire situation of migrants and asylum seekers
Those who suffer the most are obviously those who are already vulnerable, especially migrants and asylum seekers. The dramatic increase in arrivals from Turkey over the past months has created a humanitarian crisis in the country, to which the Government is failing to respond adequately. Greece has always considered itself as a transit country. As such, the State saw its role as welcoming migrants and asylum seekers and showing them the way out. Efforts to improve the asylum system in response to EU criticism proved insufficient, and the system remains dysfunctional.

According to UNHCR, more than one million people (mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq) crossed the Aegean sea into Greece since the start of 2015. There are currently around 51,000 migrants and refugees in the country. Their situation is dire in particular for the most vulnerable such as pregnant women, unaccompanied minors and disabled people. In Idomeni, on the border of Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 11 000 people are stranded in appalling conditions. On Lesvos island, the overcrowded Moria ‘hotspot’ has become a detention center where men, women and children live behind barbed wire. They lack access to food, health services including much needed psychological support and information regarding asylum procedures. Now that the border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is closed, people are trapped. The lack of clarity about their future, anxiety and hopelessness can only fuel increasing frustration, tension and despair.

The Dublin system: an unfair mechanism
The Dublin system, which places responsibility for examining an asylum application lodged in an EU member state on the country which is the first point of entry is unfair and inefficient as it puts an excessive responsibility on front-line states like Greece and Italy. It also denies asylum-seekers the possibility to register their claims in the country of their choice within the European Union. Some of them have families in Member States and would be better integrated there. The European Union should ensure that its upcoming reform of the Dublin system distributes responsibility more evenly with a view of strengthening the protection of asylum-seekers and refugees and lifting the burden from front-line states for their reception. EU countries should swiftly provide much needed meaningful support to Greece and other front-line states and fulfill their promises of relocating people from Greece as soon as possible. According to the European Commission, so far, only 1 145 persons have been relocated from Greece and Italy. In September 2015, EU members States pledged to relocate 160 000 persons from both countries before September 2017.

The EU-Turkey deal: a shameful deal
The EU-Turkey agreement concluded on 18 March is morally, politically and legally flawed. The EU is caving in to Turkish blackmail. Today Turkey asked for 3 billion. Tomorrow they will ask for more. This is incredibly short-sighted. Beyond, the agreement violates the very substance of international and European refugee law. Given the deficiencies of the Greek asylum system, it is clear that Greece cannot ensure that the necessary safeguards are in place to assess and process claims in accordance with international and European law before sending back to Turkey those whose claim for international protection is deemed unfounded or inadmissible. Greece is going to do the EU dirty job by sending people back to Turkey on the alleged basis that Turkey is a safe third country despite the fact that everyone knows it is not. It is a scandal. It took Europeans two world wars to set up a core of rules regarding the protection of refugees and a massive influx of refugees is enough to get rid of them 50 years laterThis shameful deal has to stop immediately! When historians from the 24th century will look back at us, they will compare us to the darkest Middle Ages.

Read ‘What Turkey really is’ by Yusuf Alataş, FIDH Vice President

Read ‘What the EU really is’ by Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

Read ‘What the Aegean sea really is’ by Dan Van Raemdonck, FIDH Secretary General

Read more