How refugees became stranded in Greece

When Europe abruptly closed its land borders last spring to refugees fleeing war, it made a much-heralded promise: Wealthy nations across the European Union would take in tens of thousands of desperate Syrians and Iraqis who had made it as far as near-bankrupt Greece.

But one by one, those nations have reneged, turning primitive refugee camps in Greece into dire symbols of Europe’s broken pledge.

Amid allegations of mismanagement by the Greek government, one such site sits on the grounds of an abandoned toilet-paper factory and still lacks basic heat, even as nighttime temperatures dip into the low 50s. Mosquitoes infest the white canvas tents of refugee families stranded here for months. A 14-year-old Syrian girl was recently raped. There are allegations of stabbings, thefts, suicide attempts and drug dealing.

In what leaders heralded as a remarkable show of “solidarity,” the E.U.had agreed to share the burden, and would relocate 40,000 refugees, mostly Syrians, to member countries stretching from Portugal to Finland. They would be given shelter, aid and a chance to rebuild their lives. As the number of asylum seekers surged, the E.U. later boosted its pledge–promising to relocate up to 160,000.

But 16 months after its initial decision, the E.U. has lived up to only 3.3 percent of that pledge, relocating 5,290 refugees. Last week, Austria’s foreign minister became the latest senior European official to suggest the bloc should simply drop the pretense and scrap what he called a “completely unrealistic” program.

In Greece, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is laboring to get as many refugees as possible into hotels and apartments, but most are still facing harsh conditions in unheated camps as the next winter approaches.

[The Washington Post]

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