The situation in Greece is escalating. The European Union idly stands by while a humanitarian crisis is about to turn into a humanitarian catastrophe. The situation on the Aegean islands is out of control. But instead of taking responsibility and responding to the crisis with all available means, European Ministers of Interior bicker about insufficient quotas at today’s meeting in Luxembourg.
102.000 persons have crossed the Mediterranean in the first five months of 2015 already, with the majority of boat people arriving in Greece and Italy (48.000 and 52.000 respectively). The Aegean route has become the main escape to Europe. On the island of Lesbos for example, the number of arrivals has risen from 737 in January to 7200 in May. In total more than 20.000 persons have arrived in Lesbos alone this year.
The protection seekers arriving on the Aegean islands lack even the most basic supplies. Thousands of refugees – amongst them children – camp in the open without sanitary facilities or medical care. Local communities and civil society try to help but are left to fend on their own.
Also on the mainland the situation is catastrophic. Last weekend 2000 Syrian refugees from Lesbos arrived in the harbor of Piraeus. In Athens they face destitution again. There is no reception and protection system. The ordeal of the protection seekers therefore continues.
Without quick and substantial humanitarian aid and the opening of legal travel routes for the stranded refugees, crisis stricken Greece will be further destabilized and the lives of protection seekers will be at risk.
The European Member States however deny refugees any legal ways to travel and to reunite with their families and communities. The Lithuanian Council Presidency already declared that there will be no decision on emergency relocation and solidarity regulations at the meeting in Luxembourg today.
The EU Commission suggested relocating 40.000 Eritrean and Syrian protection seekers from Italy and Greece to other EU Member States within the next two years. PRO ASYL rejects the forced distribution of refugees. Also the targeted number of 40.000 persons (16.000 from Greece and 24.000 from Italy) does not do justice to the situation in the two Border States.
Instead of quarrelling over quotas, decisive and coordinated crisis interventions in Greece and Italy are urgently needed now. All available crisis funds, emergency response and civil protection mechanisms (accommodation, sanitary facilities, medical staff and provisions, transportation means such as busses and ferries) need to activated swiftly now to counter the humanitarian crisis in Greece. In addition to EU funded emergency relief in Greece, countries in the center and the north of the EU must quickly permit for legal travelling of protection seekers from Greece.