Humanitarian aid agencies pulling back from Europe’s “Refugee Prisons”
“We will not allow our assistance to be instrumentalized for a mass expulsion operation,” declared Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) official Marie Elisabeth Ingres this week, joining the chorus of major humanitarian institutions pulling their operations from Greek island refugee “hotpots” that have been transformed into nightmarish prisons. “We refuse to be part of a system that has no regard for the humanitarian or protection needs of asylum seekers and migrants.”
As ever-increasing numbers of war and poverty survivors reach Greek islands, the land masses have become ground zero for a newly escalated European Union crackdown, which decrees: “All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey.” Before being subject to mass expulsion, refugees are being forcibly held in “hotspots” that were created under a separate EU agreement last year.
Since the deal went into effect, 934 people had arrived in Lesvos alone and are “being held at a closed registration and temporary accommodation site in Moria on the east of the island.” Numerous humanitarian organizations testify that the sanitation and public health conditions at this location are dismal. While they have been providing critical humanitarian support for the people at Moria—from medical care to hygiene assistance to daily essentials—they say they can no longer do so in good conscience. This includes MSF, Oxfam, Save the Children, and the Norwegian Refugee Council, among others.
Oxfam announced in a statement it is suspending all aid operations to “protest to the suspension of migrants’ rights by the EU and Turkey.” Save the Children also announced that it has suspended all activities “related to supporting basic services at all detention centers on the Greek islands due to extreme concerns that newly-arrived vulnerable children and their families are in danger of unlawful and unjustified custody for sustained periods of time.”
Giovanni Riccardi Candiani, country representative for Oxfam in Greece, rebuked the detention of people “who committed no crime and who have risked their lives in search of security and a better future.”