• Greece: 1000 Vulnerable People Evacuated, Relocation of Children Started, Asylum Procedures Suspended, Renewed Tensions at Turkish Border

    EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson has announced the temporary evacuation of 1000 vulnerable refugees from the Greek island camps to hotels on the islands and on the mainland due to the COVID-19 crisis. UN agencies welcome the relocation of the first twelve unaccompanied children from the Greek island camps to Luxembourg with Germany set to receive 58 over the weekend. The Greek government has announced that asylum services are suspended until 15 May, and has placed its forces under high alert due to alleged gathering of people at the Greek Turkish border.

    Commissioner Ylva Johansson defined the temporary evacuation of 1000 vulnerable refugees from the overcrowded Aegean island camps as “EU values in practice, even in such trying times”. The Commissioner further established that it had been possible “thanks to combined efforts” of the European Commission, the UN Agencies UNHCR and IOM as well as the Greek government. The camps with a maximum capacity of 6-7000 people are currently hosting close to 40,000 under harsh conditions and exposed to increasing health risks due to the COVID-19 crisis. Two camps on the mainland have already been quarantined as a result of Corona outbreaks. The group is transferred to vacant hotels on the islands and the mainland.

    The UN agencies the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on 15 March welcomed the relocation of twelve unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from Greece to Luxembourg. Germany is set to be the next of ten European countries to deliver on promises to accept a total of 1600 unaccompanied children from camps on the Greek islands. Ms. Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Response in Europe expressed hope that the successful relocation to Luxembourg will inspire other EU member states to follow up on their pledges and stated: “This action is critical, because children identified for relocation are the most vulnerable and most in need of protection. It is also a tangible way to support the ongoing efforts of Greek authorities to look after the thousands of refugee and migrant children who will remain under their care.” Germany is set to receive 58 over the weekend and the German Interior Ministry has announced that it will receive a total of at least 350 children.

    According to the UN agencies: “As of early April, there were more than 5,200 unaccompanied and separated children in Greece in urgent need of durable solutions, including expedited registration, family reunification and relocation. Among them, over 1,600 are exposed to severe risks, including exploitation and violence, and facing precarious conditions in over-crowded reception and identification centers on the Aegean islands”.

    The controversial suspension of the Greek asylum procedure in March due to increased arrivals from Turkey was replaced by a suspension due to the COVID-19 crisis and the Greek government has announced that the current freeze of activities by the Greek asylum service will continue until May 15.

    In a Guidance on the implementation of relevant EU provisions in the area of asylum and return procedures and on resettlement released this week, the EU commission recalls the fundamental principles that must continue to apply, so that access to the asylum procedure continues to the greatest extent possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    According to Greek defense minister, Nikos Panagiotopoulos, Greece is in high alert due to gathering of people on the Turkish side of the border, with security forces under orders “to prevent the entry of people who want to come into the country illegally” and Greek navy ships sent to reinforce the coast guard in the eastern Aegean. While recognizing that the situation is dynamic and can change any minute the IOM stated on March 13 that they had no indication of people gathering along the Turkish coastline opposite the islands of the eastern Aegean.

    #Covid-19 #Migration #Migrant #Balkans #Grèce #Camp #Ilesgrecques #Mineursnonaccompagnés #Enfant #Transfert #Hotel #Allemagne #Luxembourg #Suspensionasile

  • Info Park Weekly 8– 14 April 2020


    ➢ In the reporting period, Info Park identified 109 new arrivals to Belgrade - mostly from Afghanistan, followed by Pakistan and Syria. The number shows that COVID- 19 pandemic and the imposed state of emergency did not prevent migrants from coming to Serbia. Given no local or national public transport, the new arrivals completely depend on smugglers’ networks. This was proven by the arrest in Vranje of a local with 9 migrants he transported. In the reporting period, 90 of the newly arrived benefited from Info Park services and a provision of a warm meal during waiting time for transportation to camps. All of them were temporarily accommodated overnight in OSP Miksalište, expecting adequate referral, mainly to a new makeshift camp in Miratovac for 28 days long quarantine, or to a newly open tent camp in the village of Morović (Vojvodina, near the border with Croatia) originally planned to quarantine the locals, with dubious hygienic standards. Given that the overcrowding remained the main issue with nearly 9,000 residents in the camps originally built for 6,000, it was not surprising that Miratovac RC got filled up with 280 migrants in mere 24 hours upon opening.
    ➢ Serbia registers a constant rise of confirmed COVID-19 cases (tested: 20,958; confirmed cases: 4,054; deaths: 85) making refugees and all other migrants even more concerned about their safety. Dr. Predrag Kon, lead Serbian epidemiologist, said that Roma and migrant population are at higher risk from COVID-19 since they are accommodated in collective centers often lacking adequate conditions for successful prevention. So far, there are no infected among these communities. However, it is encouraging that medical workers continued testing migrants, treating them as equal as Serbian nationals.
    ➢ Situation in some of the Serbia’s biggest reception and asylum centers did not get any calmer in the past week. On contrary, a further rise of tensions has continued in Krnjača AC, peaking with a riot police intervention on Saturday 12 April which was carried out with an aim to detain the perpetrators of Monday 7 incident we already reported in Weekly 012. Unfortunately, as reported by various witnesses, the police used excessive force including tear gas in an inappropriate manner so unnecessary stress was put on vulnerable population, including children. Two buses of “troublemakers” were sent to newly open camp Morović. It seems that a relation of trust between beneficiaries and authorities is currently on an extremely low level; most of the refugees and migrants in Krnjača AC complain that MoI special units sadly continued intimidating beneficiaries with loud night visits of riot police or helicopters flying low above the camp.
    ➢ After a long break, the first serious pushback from Serbia was reported on the border with North Macedonia. A group of migrants from Tutin AC (from Algeria, Morocco and Iran) was told by the camp authorities they will be transported to Preševo RC, south of Serbia; instead they were pushed 350km away to a North Macedonia territory near Lojane village. This was a regular practice before 2018, especially with mischiefs from Preševo camp. Lojane village is a long-term smuggling hub and organize crime stronghold.
    ➢ A number of intercepted attempts to cross the Serbo-Hungarian border remained
    low, with 48 attempts for 7 days, ranging between 1 and 11 per day.
    Info Park
    ➢ Info Park remained its daily presence in Belgrade Savamala area and continued the outreach operations in Pirot and Bujanovac camps with 4 information sharing workshops last week. We are happy to report a reasonably peaceful atmosphere in these camps where almost none of the gaps and issues typical for big camps are noticeable thanks to significant efforts of the SCRM staff and proactive approach of the clients.
    Last week, Info Park organized the 7th coordination meeting online, with the participation of representatives from Atina, Praxis, CYI and CRPC. The main topics included current state of emergency and Covid-19 crisis response. None of them have plans of coming back to the field work in the coming weeks, at least not before May.
    ➢ The emergency suspension of asylum applications between 1 and 31 March has ended and got replaced by general suspension of activities of the Greek Asylum Service until at the end of April. Meanwhile, Malakasa camp, north of Athens has been quarantined due to a confirmed corona virus case. This is the second Greek camp which had to be closed over the pandemic.
    ➢ Nine European member states (Germany, France, Portugal, Finland, Lithuania, Croatia, Ireland, Belgium and Bulgaria) pledged in early 2020 to accept a total of 1,600 unaccompanied children to be relocated from camps on the Greek islands. Germany is the first to fulfil the promise. According to DW, German officials have expressed regret over the lackluster response from other eight EU states on resettling unaccompanied boys and girls. Two non-EU countries, Switzerland and Serbia, also pledged to do the same, but with no follow up so far. Serbian authorities agreed to relocate 100 unaccompanied children from Greece.

    Info Park Weekly 08-14 April 2020 5

    #Covid-19 #Migration #Migrant #Balkans #Grèce #Serbie #RépubliquedeMacédoine #Refoulement #Frontières #Camps #Transfert ##Belgrade #Miksaliste #Morovic #Croatie
    #Miratovac #Presevo #Krnjaca #Encampement #Tutin #Lojane #Pirot #Bujanovac #Malakasa #Suspensionasile #Allemagne, #France, #Portugal, #Finlande,#Lituanie, #Croatie #Irlande, #Belgique and #Bulgarie #Révolte

  • Greece/Turkey: Asylum-seekers and migrants killed and abused at borders

    In the midst of violence at the Greek-Turkish border, at least two men were killed and a woman remains missing after Greek border forces reportedly fired live ammunition and tear gas against asylum-seekers and migrants. This occurred after Turkish authorities recklessly encouraged them to travel to Greece under false pretences, new research by Amnesty International has revealed.

    From 27 February onwards, thousands of people headed to the Greek border after Turkish authorities encouraged and facilitated their movement there. Some asylum seekers and their families living in Turkey even gave up their accommodation and spent all their money to make the journey. However, Greek authorities repressed the movement of people attempting to cross by bolstering border control, sending in police and army forces who used tear gas, water cannons, plastic bullets and live ammunition.

    “People travelled from Turkey to Greece to seek safety, yet they were met with violence so serious that at least two were tragically killed. Allegations of violence must be promptly and impartially investigated. Everyone should be treated humanely, shielded from violence and be granted access to protection in the countries where they are seeking safety” said Massimo Moratti, Deputy Director of the Amnesty International Europe Regional Office.

    At least two people killed at the land border with Turkey

    Amnesty International has confirmed the deaths of two men at the Greece/Turkey land border on 2 and 4 March.

    A third person, Fatma (not her real name) from Syria, is missing and presumed dead after she and her husband were separated from their six children while attempting to cross the Evros/Meriç river, south of Edirne, to enter Greece. Ahmed (not his real name) told Amnesty International that his wife has been missing, presumed dead after Greek soldiers fired shots towards her as she attempted to join their children on the Greek side of the river.

    Ahmed told Amnesty International that Greek authorities subsequently detained him and their children for four or five hours, during which they were stripped and had their possessions taken. They were then driven back to the river and put in a wooden boat that took them and others back to the Turkish side. Despite enlisting lawyers in both countries to find out what happened to his wife, Ahmed has been unable to determine her whereabouts or fate.

    Muhammad Gulzari, a 43-year-old man from Pakistan, was shot in the chest as he attempted to cross into Greece at the Pazarkule/Kastanies border crossing point, and pronounced dead in a Turkish hospital on 4 March, in an incident which saw five others injured with gunshot wounds. A 22-year-old Syrian man, Muhammad al-Arab, also died in the area. His killing was documented by Forensic Architecture.

    Other violence against asylum-seekers and migrants at the borders

    Asylum-seekers and migrants told Amnesty International how Greek border forces implemented a government policy to repel them instead of taking their asylum claims even after they had entered Greek territory. This violates international human rights law.

    People reported being beaten by border guards with truncheons, being detained at sites in the border area for periods of time ranging from hours to several days and being returned to Turkey in boats across the Evros/Meriç river in groups. Asylum-seekers and migrants told Amnesty International that border forces also took their money - in some cases thousands of dollars and their only savings - with which they had hoped to start a new life in Europe.

    This violent response was not limited to the border areas. One man from Deir ez-Zor, Syria, told Amnesty International about his experience of crossing into Greece on 4 March “I crossed the river and walked inside Greece for four days and four nights before I was caught. They drove me to a place where they beat me and took my phone and money, 2000 Lira [approx. 275 euros], it was all I have. They took me back across the river to Turkey and left me there without a coat or shoes.”

    Arbitrary detention and suspension of asylum

    In response to Turkey’s actions, Greece also reinforced its patrol capacity at sea, with 52 additional vessels employed to prevent people from arriving to the islands and additional Frontex resources, the EU’s border and coast guard agency. In parallel, emergency legislation suspended all new asylum applications across the country for a month, in brazen violation of international and EU law. While the act ceased to have effects on 2 April, people seeking safety continue to be prevented from accessing asylum as the Greek Asylum Service operations have been suspended since 13 March due to Covid-19.

    Across the Aegean islands, everybody who had arrived after 1 March 2020 was arbitrarily held in port facilities and other areas, unable to claim asylum and at risk of return to Turkey or to countries of ‘origin or transit’. In Lesvos alone, around 500 people – including over 200 children – who arrived by sea were held for over 10 days on a Greek Navy ship normally used to transport tanks and other military vehicles. Hundreds more asylum-seekers and migrants were held in other port facilities across the Aegean.

    All of those detained on the islands were eventually transferred to bigger detention centres on mainland Greece on 20 March where they are currently held pending return decisions and unable to claim asylum.

    “Greece must now quickly change course and allow all new arrivals to access asylum procedures and basic services. They must move people from detention facilities and unsanitary camps to safe and adequate accommodation. The rapid spread of COVID-19 has only made that more urgent,” said Massimo Moratti.

    “European countries should effectively and meaningfully relocate asylum seekers from Greece and resettle refugees from Turkey. With the correct public health checks and quarantines in place, COVID-19 need not be a barrier to providing safety to people forced to flee their homes.”


    #Covid-19 #Migration #Migrant #Balkans #Grèce #Turquie #Frontière #Asile #Suspensionasile #Détention #Camp