Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Greek refugee crisis must be fully accepted as European problem: Council of Europe

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on Tuesday adopted a resolution calling on the European Union and its member states to fully accept the migratory crisis as a European problem and not only a Greek one.

"The European Union has until now failed to provide adequate support to Greece or ensure that responsibility is shared equitably amongst its member States," said Dutch socialist Tineke Strik.

In her report titled, "Refugees in danger in Greece," the parliamentarian underlined that "due to the simple fact of its position on the map, Greece must bear a totally disproportionate burden, while in all other regards, it is perhaps the least well-placed of all the member states of the European Union to assume this responsibility."

At this time, some 46,000 refugees and migrants are still stuck in continental Greece, and close to 8,500 are on the islands in the Aegean Sea. "We must keep in mind that some 52,000 migrants which find themselves in Greece have need of more aid and solidarity on the part of European nations," said Secretary General of the Council of Europe (CoE) Thorbjorn Jagland.

Many voices have praised the "Cyclopsean" efforts of Greece, faced with a refugee crisis unseen in Europe since the end of World War II. In 2015, more than a million people fleeing armed conflicts and misery, mostly from Syria, arrived on the continent.

"Despite our financial difficulties, our primary concern has always been to respect humanitarian law and to improve the conditions of reception for the refugees," said Greek minister for Migration Ioannis Mouzalas. "The most just way to share the responsibility, it isn't just to give us money, but to equitably redistribute the refugees and to give them decent living conditions," he added.

"Greece finds itself today stuck between two brutal realities linked to the response of a Europe panicked in the face of the crisis of refugees and migrants: on the one hand, the closure by the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia of its border with the country and, on the other hand, the imposed application of the EU-Turkey agreement in the islands of the Aegean Sea," the rapporteur said.

"Hotspots" in Greece are still detaining thousands of people in conditions described at best as "mediocre," especially due to insufficient capacity.

During the debate, several parliamentarians deplored the lack of progress in the implementation of a plan for the "resettlement of migrants" decided on by the EU in 2015.

"It is completely shameful that the number of resettlements to this day have not even reached a thousand. The European Commission set an intermediary objective of 20,000 for mid-May. On May 18, however, only 909 refugees had effectively been resettled," Strik said in her report.

After the March 19 agreement with Turkey, the European Asylum Support Office had requested the provision of 400 agents for handling asylum requests and 400 interpreters, then requested 72 supplementary agents on April 4. As of May 4, however, only 63 agents and 67 interpreters had been deployed.

The same situation goes for Frontex, the European agency for the management and operational cooperation on the external borders of the member states of the EU: of the 1,500 escort agents and the 50 agents for return operations that were requested, only 292 escort agents and 21 for return operations have been deployed so far.

In its resolution, PACE expressed concern regarding the treatment of children, and especially of unaccompanied minors. According to UNICEF, of the approximately 22,000 refugee and migrant children who find themselves in Greece, some 2,000 will have been separated from their families.

"The refugees are not simple numbers on a sheet of paper, they are beings of flesh and blood...and they have rights," said PACE president Pedro Agramunt.

"Violence, wars and political oppression have not left them any other choice but to leave their homes and their countries. They have fled these conflicts and survived the often long and terribly dangerous journeys. We have the human and legal obligation to do everything which is in our power to help them," he added.

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