The U.N. refugee agency is calling for safeguards before refugees and migrants are deported from Greece to Turkey as required under a deal between the European Union and Turkey. The UNHCR says measures must be taken to ensure that the human rights of all those returned are protected.
The agency is not alone in claiming safeguards are lacking. Its concerns are supported in a recent Amnesty International report, which alleges Turkey has forcibly returned thousands of refugees to Syria.
The U.N. refugee agency says it does not object to the return of people who have not asked for asylum and are not in need of international protection. However, it adds the human rights of these people also must be respected.
The agency reports 51,000 refugees and migrants are in Greece. Of them 5,000 are on the islands and the rest on the mainland. It says facilities where they are held are overcrowded, unsanitary and need to be improved quickly.
As an example, UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming noted that on the island of Lesbos, some 2,300 refugees and migrants are crammed into a detention center meant to hold 2,000 people.
“People are sleeping in the open and food supply is insufficient, and anxiety and frustration are widespread. Making matters worse, there are families who have become separated. Some family members [are] in other parts of Greece, scattered across Greece and [this is] presenting an additional worry should returns begin,” she said.
Sub-standard conditions, lack of information
Fleming said thousands of people on other islands, as well as on the mainland are living in sub-standard conditions. She noted that uncertainty, lack of information and the limited capacity of Greek authorities to register asylum claims are creating a chaotic situation throughout the country. She added that violence was growing as a result, citing recent events on the Greek island of Chios.
“We are obviously very worried about the situation that is on Chios. And, you may have seen news reports that there were riots there last night with people who were injured with stab wounds… We believe that the risk of panic and injury in these sites and others is real in the current circumstances,” she said.
Fleming added the UNHCR is asking Turkish authorities for access to people returned from Greece so it can monitor their treatment and prevent anyone from being forcibly deported to their homes where their lives might be in danger.