Three years after EU-Turkey migrant deal, thousands still stranded in Greece

Three years ago, the European Union and Turkey inked a deal to prevent migrants and asylum seekers from crossing irregularly from Turkey to Greece. It aimed to prevent people from risking their lives on a dangerous journey and provide Turkey with resources to support people in need.

Under the deal, all irregular migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey will be returned. In exchange for every Syrian returned, one Syrian will be placed in Europe using the UN Vulnerability Criteria. Migrants, however, cannot be returned until full registration of their asylum claim. As a result, about 12,000 adults and children are now stranded in Greece, waiting their turn.

According to Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas, Greece only has the capacity to process 20,000 asylum applications per year. However, the country received 67,000 in 2018. The population of undocumented irregular migrants is now set to exceed 90,000 by the end of this year. Greece calls this an “unbearable weight” for the country.

A large population of these migrants and asylum seekers live in unsafe and degrading conditions on Greek island camps, with limited access to essential services. Aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres said European leaders must immediately evacuate children and other vulnerable people from these overcrowded, unsafe and unsanitary Greek island camps.

“Greece has become a dumping ground for the men, women, and children that the European Union has failed to protect,” said Emmanuel Goué, MSF head of mission in Greece. “What was once touted as a ‘refugee emergency’ has given way to inexcusable levels of human suffering across the Greek islands and on mainland Greece.”

The Greek government started moving migrants and asylum seekers to the mainland last year, after they were called out for the deplorable conditions on islands such as Lesbos. However, even on the mainland, thousands live in temporary accommodations or on the streets, with limited access to aid. MSF said many face psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety.

“How can we help a woman overcome trauma related to previous sexual assaults when she lives on the streets?” asks Goué. “Not only does she live in constant fear of another assault, but it would be dangerous for her to take medication that makes her drowsy. There is no recovery without safe housing, and yet there is a real shortage of safe housing for our high-needs patients all over Greece.”

TMP – 20/03/2019

Photo credit: Michele Brusini / Shutterstock. Migrants and asylum seekers (mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq) living in camps in Greece.