Afghan children playing in a camp in Greece

Europe must stand together to save lives

The EU leaders must take immediate action as thousands of people are at risk, stuck in sub-standard and decreasing conditions in Greece, while winter is coming. EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday must stand together in solidarity and agree on assisting these vulnerable people and showing a way forward in solidarity, the Danish Refugee Council said today in a statement, ahead of the European Council meeting of 15 December, 2016, calling on EU leaders to save lives, together with thirty other organizations.


The meeting in Brussels will, among other things, discuss progress on the EU-Turkey deal, the reform of the European asylum system, principles of responsibility sharing in the future and cooperation with countries of origin and transit. DRC calls for solidarity among member states in order to save lives among refugees and asylum seekers stuck in Greece, and for safeguarding access to protection.

“Europe can and must not outsource its responsibilities and leaving it to member states of first entry like Greece and Italy, to shoulder all the responsibility. It is not possible for countries at EU's borders to solely solve this challenge. At the same time the EU Commission has also recommended that EU countries should gradually resume returns to Greece via the Dublin regulation. Given the challenges the authorities in Greece is facing, it is time to increase numbers of relocation from Greece – not sending people back,” says Ann Mary Olsen, International Director at the Danish Refugee Council.

The living conditions of tens of thousands of men, women and children in Greece do not meet the most basic standards of human dignity and safety. Only three weeks ago a grandmother and her grandchild died when their tent in the Moria 'hotspot', on the island of Lesvos caught fire, because the cold forced them to cook inside the tent.

“With Europe becoming increasingly more closed for people seeking international protection from the horrible conflicts in the world, we simply cannot lean back and expect neighboring countries to handle this global challenge without our support. If these things happened in another part of the world, European countries would be calling for solutions. Right now we have a terrible situation in and around Aleppo and it is all part of a larger global scheme where countries are stepping away from their responsibility and leaving the refugees and displaced behind,” says Ann Mary Olsen.

Only around 8,000, of the 160,000 planned relocations from Greece and Italy have been carried out. Meanwhile refugees and asylum seekers are waiting in vain in Greece not knowing about their rights and options. European countries still haven't reached a solution of solidarity to assist these vulnerable people seeking protection from war and persecution.

“It is shameful how a small proportion of the world's refugees and displaced coming to the world's richest continent could spur such a large political crisis. It is only a fraction of the worlds displaced that are coming to Europe. The vast majority stays in the regions of origin and hence much more global responsibility sharing is needed. History has showed us what happens, if we do not stand together, so it is time to unite rather than divide. The problem last year was not the numbers of people seeking protection in Europe – it was the lack of solidarity within Europe that caused a major political crisis, which ended up using refugees and asylum seekers as bargaining chips in a game they had no stake in,” says Ann Mary Olsen.

Ahead of the meeting in Brussels on Thursday December 15, the Danish Refugee Council together with thirty other organizations call for EU member states to act before it is too late.

“We have three key recommendations ahead of the European Council meeting on Thursday. Member states should prioritize immediate transfer of people from the overcrowded sites on the Aegean islands to adequate open facilities on the mainland. Member states should commit to redoubling their efforts to support the relocation scheme and to apply the option in the Dublin-Regulation to reunite family members on humanitarian grounds, thus alleviating the pressure on the border countries, including Greece. Finally, member state should ensure that access to protection and to a fair an efficient asylum process is not compromised by the desire to speed up processes,” says Ann Mary Olsen.

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