Izza Leghtas, RI's Senior Advocate for Europe, remarks on her time spent interviewing refugees stranded on islands in Greece. Watch her video update below.
This week, the leaders of seven of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nations will meet in Taormina, Italy, for this year’s G7 summit.The leaders of the U.S., the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, and the EU will attend the meeting on the Sicilian coast. As they marvel at the beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea, will they think of the men, women and children who put their lives in the hands of ruthless smugglers to reach Italy’s shores?
As the EU marks its 60th anniversary, EU member states now face the largest displacement crisis since World War II. Instead of responding with humanity and effectiveness, they have turned their backs on and closed their borders to people urgently seeking protection. Well over a million people have crossed the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2015, fleeing wars, violence, persecution, and human rights abuses in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea.
On March 18, the EU and Turkey will mark the one -year anniversary of their joint statement , which sought to stem the flows of asylum-seekers and migrants crossing from Turkey’s shores to the Greek islands. But as this anniversary approaches, Refugee International believes there little cause to celebrate and much more cause for concern. While EU leaders have presented the policy as a success, pointing to the significant decrease in the number of arrivals on the Greek islands since March 2016, the policy has also left thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers stranded in Greece in shocking conditions and has eroded the right to seek asylum in Europe.
Today’s deal between the European Union and Turkey marks a troubling precedent in the search for a principled and effective response to the refugee crisis confronting Europe. While Refugees International is relieved to see that the agreement appears to consider elements of respect for the right to seek asylum in Greece, we are concerned with the provision that states that the EU will return all new irregular migrants, an apparent contradiction that must be clarified. Serious legal, ethical, and moral questions remain about the implementation of the deal
On March 7th, European and Turkish leaders announced a breakthrough in agreeing to a framework for a possible deal on managing the flow of refugees and migrants arriving from Turkey onto Greece’s shores. If the framework is implemented as it has been presented, it appears that the deal would strike a major blow to refugee rights. Currently, a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in Greece, with deteriorating conditions for refugee arrivals who are attempting to transit through the country. European leaders and international actors should focus attention and resources on protecting and assisting refugees and asylum seekers, not trading away their rights in the hopes of preventing new arrivals.
Unlike a situation in which humanitarians meet refugees in the relative safety of camps at the end of their flight, Greece is just one stop on a long journey northward, where first responders have rescued people from drowning, watched dead bodies float onto shore, and embraced those celebrating a successful entry into Europe. The range of emotions is extreme, and then stories of horrific violence, hardship, and for many, disappointment follow.
As of November 19, more than 850,000 refugees and migrants arrived by sea into Europe this year, and more than 80 percent of them — around 735,000 — through Greece. While the majority are Syrian, there are also asylum seekers from many countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Somalia, and Morocco. In addition to war, people are fleeing poverty, indignities, and persecution. Images of dead bodies washing ashore shocked the world. But the persistently poor assumption that the European Union was capable of a coherent, humane, and well-resourced response resulted in delay upon delay by the usual international humanitarian actors.