MEPs report back from delegation to Greece: safe and legal access to Europe urgently needed
This week a GUE/NGL delegation to assess the situation of refugees in Athens and Lesbos observed the stress that rumours of imminent border closures is imposing on people in need of protection.
Representatives of all the organisations that met with MEPs during the delegation shared the view that the only way to end this tragedy is to provide safe and legal access to the EU and that further border closures would only lead to more blatant violations of human rights.
Despite extremely harsh weather conditions, more and more women and children are risking their lives to cross the Aegean Sea to reach a place of safety in Europe.
In 2015, over 850,000 refugees arrived in Greece*, and it is expected that the same number or more will arrive in 2016.
Regardless of harsh budget limitations, Greece, along with many local and European volunteers, solidarity organisations and NGOs, has responded with humanitarian support for refugees, compliance with international law and a refusal to carry out 'push-backs'.
Yet, there is a severe lack of funding support from the European Union and its member states, as well as shortages in essential items such as ambulances, heaters and blankets*.
With borders of many European countries closing, and the looming threat of the FYROM border also closing, Greece faces immense pressure over the possibility of receiving far more refugees than it can support over the coming year.
GUE/NGL MEPs assessed the situation on the ground in Greece, through visits to the new 'hotspot' in Lesbos, reception centres in Lesbos and Athens and a village in Lesbos where thousands of refugees are arriving. Meetings were also held with the Greek Minister for Migration, the Mayor of Lesvos, the Greek Coastguard, Frontex, the UNHCR, the European Asylum Support Office, Europol and local and international NGOs and activists working on rescue and reception.
GUE/NGL Coordinator on the LIBE Committee, Cornelia Ernst, describes what is needed: "We must not allow refugees to be the victims of a roulette game where borders can be closed at any time. Instead, we must open our borders to create safe and legal pathways into Europe. We need a genuine sharing of responsibilities between all EU member states in order to address the situation in a decent and appropriate way. This means giving financial and logistical support to Greece, and a sincere cooperation based on trust between the EU and Greece - something that does not exist at the moment."
Spanish MEP, Marina Albiol Guzmán, explains the situation on the ground that the MEPs observed this week: "The situation in Lesbos and throughout Greece is dramatic; thousands of people leave their homes daily and try to reach their destinations by passing through Greece. During our mission we observed two very different attitudes towards this: hundreds of organisations and international and local volunteers working hard to support refugees and proving the solidarity of the European people, in contrast with the attitude of European leaders, who impose their aggressive ‘Fortress Europe’ model which criminalises the movement of people and puts them in extreme peril."
Greek MEP, Kostas Chrysogonos, adds: "Our delegation to Lesbos was a touching experience. One can only imagine the dramatic situation these people must face in their countries in order to ignore the dangers and the weather conditions and try to reach Europe through that lethal pathway. The Greek state, despite its severe financial problems, along with volunteers, NGOs and residents are doing their best, but the EU as a whole is failing them. The lifejackets that remain strewn along the coast serve as a constant reminder of the lives that have been lost due to the lack of safe, legal access to European soil".
Portuguese MEP, João Pimenta Lopes, also described the actions required to improve the situation: "The migrant/refugee 'crisis' - an exodus of hundreds of thousands of people who seek escape from famine, misery and war in Europe - constitutes a human tragedy. It demands immediate measures on the ground, namely through the creation of legal and safe migratory routes and the inversion of the EU, USA and NATO policies of interference and aggression in the Middle East and North African territories."
German MEP, Stefan Eck, reinforced the need for a European solution: "Once again, the EU interior ministers are saying that Greece must do its homework: If the external borders will not be better protected, Athens will face the consequences. The Greek government has two options; either save the refugees from drowning, as enshrined in international marine law, or watch them drowning in the Aegean Sea. The trip to Greece was shocking and clearly showed that Brussels must respond to this situation immediately. If we leave Greece and the refugees alone in this humanitarian catastrophe, we betray our idea of humanity and solidarity, and we therefore destroy the European idea. It is not only Greece that must deal with the refugee crisis, but the EU as a whole."
Basque MEP, Josu Juaristi, considered the implications of the current crisis on the future of Europe: "Everything we have seen here in Athens and Lesbos, like all we saw in previous delegations to Lampedusa, Calais, the Western Balkans route and Jordan, is about the society we want to build, the dignity and the respect we owe to refugees - no matter where they come from - who try to create a future for themselves and have the right to seek it in Europe. Of course this is about Europe, but above all it is about us; as individuals, as society, about the future we want to bequeath to future generations, not the one that some governments and Frontex want to impose on us. That is what this is about, that is the fight. Refugees are welcome!".
View photographs from the GUE/NGL delegation to Athens & Lesbos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/guengl/sets/72157663883702779
(Professional photos are also available, contact for details)
* Source: Refugee Crisis 2015, a joint publication of the Greek Authorities, European Union, UNHCR & IOM, December 2015.
GUE/NGL Press Contact:
Nikki Sullings +32 22 83 27 60 / +32 483 03 55 75