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Avramopoulos is right: Greece needs European action now on refugees

By Georgia Logothetis, HALC Managing Director

European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos visited refugee camps in Greece this week and implored Europe to do more to address the humanitarian crisis:

Greece has already shown its humanity in dealing with the refugee crisis, a crisis that no EU Member State is able or should be left to cope with alone.

We cannot give up now. The European humanitarian tradition must be maintained.

So it simply cannot be that refugees are left out in the cold, to brave the worst of winter without a roof over their heads. Solutions must be found today, not tomorrow, not next week, but now.

Importantly, Avramopoulos called on EU Member States to increase the number of relocations from Greece. EU ministers agreed in 2015 to relocate some 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy throughout the EU. However, the EU has relocated only 5% of those refugees. It is estimated that there are about 62,000 refugees currently stuck in limbo in Greece alone.

According to the Greek Foreign Ministry, 9,000 of those refugees should have been relocated in 2016. However, EU countries did not accept them, and the asylum application and approval process has moved at a snail’s pace, taking months.

Some EU leaders are calling for their colleagues to do more:

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn has called on Brussels to speed up the implementation of its refugee redistribution programme, as winter conditions make life intolerable for people waiting in Greece and Italy.

“Redistribution is the key to progress,” Asselborn told Der Tagesspiegel. “The point is to show effective solidarity,” he added. Bitter winter weather has made life even more difficult for refugees in Greece, Italy and non-EU member Serbia.

At a time when Europe should be focusing on triaging the situation — providing winter assistance to refugees, helping them to relocate immediately off the islands, etc. — some European governments are returning asylum seekers back to Greece, despite brutal weather conditions:

The German interior ministry announced on Thursday that it would return newly arrived asylum seekers to Greece — effectively suspending a five-year ban on such returns — in accordance with the Dublin Regulation protocol.

Under the Dublin rules, asylum seekers must be returned to the first European Union member country they entered. However, Germany has for the past five years refrained from carrying out such transfers owing to the increasingly poor humanitarian conditions refugees and migrants endure in Greece.

The decision came just a month after the European Commission recommended that member countries return refugees and migrants who first entered the EU in Greece back to that country.

Abdulazez Dukhan, an 18-year-old who arrived in Greece nearly a year ago after fleeing Homs in Syria, said sending asylum seekers back to Greece will lead to a “sorry situation”.

The fact remains that once again, Greece has been left to bear a crisis when it is ill-equipped to do so. Rather than provide direct emergency relief, the EU has relied instead on allocating funds into a broken, underdeveloped and overwhelmed humanitarian assistance program. Europe — not Greece — has the resources and the responsibility to immediately address this shameful refugee crisis. Each day of delay simply puts more lives at risk.

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