MEPs urge EU, member states to aid Greece manage its borders

Despite some technical challenges, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) managed to hold on Thursday its planned exchange of views on the situation at the EU’s external borders in Greece.

At the debate took part Greek ministers for migration and asylum, Notis Mitarachi, and for citizen protection, Michalis Chrisochoidis. EC Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, and the Croatian State Secretary for European and International Affairs, Terezija Gras.  Frontex Executive Director, Fabrice Leggeri, and the Director of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, Michael O’Flaherty also made important interventions during the discussion.

Touching upon the coronavirus threat, Commissioner Johansson said that refugee camps, in countries of first asylum, are “severely ill-equipped to support a large number of persons who already live in precarious conditions”. She warned that the spreading of the virus in such contexts may result in a massive humanitarian crisis.

This is a danger, both for refugees hosted in third countries outside the EU and for those living in unbearable conditions on the Greek islands, she added. “We now know that in Greece we’ve had the first cases in a migrant camp outside Athens. There are twenty confirmed cases in this camp. I think that they can manage. This is a well-managed camp, and they have access to health care, but still it’s a strong warning signal.”

The commissioner stressed that there have been six confirmed cases on Lesvos, outside the migratory camps and an immediate action to protect people should be taken. The responsibility for this falls on Greek government and the Greek authorities, but the EU Commission is providing massive support, and we must do that, Commissioner Johansson emphasised noting that massive support of other Member States is also needed.

The LIBE lawmakers were adamant that the EU and its member states must help Greece manage its borders, warning about the jeopardy of COVID-19 spreading in refugee camps. They asserted that the current pandemic is yet more evidence that no country can deal with certain challenges alone.

MEPs welcomed the commitment of eight member states to relocate 1,600 unaccompanied minors from the Greek islands to other EU countries, but requested clarification about when precisely this will happen and about which member states will participate. Some requested that relocation should also apply to other vulnerable asylum-seekers and to families.

Concerning the possible outbreak of coronavirus in the camps, some LIBE members suggested transferring people to the Greek mainland or using empty hotel rooms to ensure social distancing, while others opposed any additional relocation, to avoid creating problems of public order.

They recalled the crisis that followed Turkey’s announcement one month ago that it would let people cross into EU territory and underlined that solidarity with frontline countries is key and that migration should not be used for political purposes. Several MEPs questioned the Greek authorities’ decision not to accept any asylum requests for a month.

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