The UNHCR and Doctors without Borders (MSF) have warned Greece and the EU, that they are suspending some of their activities on the Greek Islands. On Samos the UNHCR have said, they will no longer oversee the management of the main camp, as the new rules effectively turn it into a detention facility. As neither the UNHCR nor MSF accepts locking refugees or migrants up like criminals, they will suspend some of their activities as of today.
The seriousness of the decision taken by the UNHCR is perhaps most visibly symbolised by the organisation removing their logos in- and outside the camp in Samos Town, as they do not wish be associated with the new EU-Turkey deal hammered out in Brussels last Friday. From the UNHCR representatives on Samos it is understood that the decision to suspend activities will be implemented as of today – and not only on Samos, but on Lesbos, Leros, Kos and Chios as well.
The move from the UNHCR comes after a nine-point paper was released after the EU-Turkey summit (Read the full paper here), in which the EU indicated that the UNHCR would be given a role of collaborator with the EU Commission, EU-agencies and Member States on managing the detention centres and returning people to Turkey – something that goes against the mandate of the humanitarian agency.
On the ground in Samos, the move by the UNHCR and MSF comes as a bit of a surprise. UNHCR have been present on the Greek Islands since last summer and despite criticism, their presence has at least on Samos helped coordinate the efforts by volunteers, the municipality as well as the larger NGO’s. UNHCR has also stepped in to help unaccompanied minors and vulnerable refugees and migrants identified by volunteers and other NGOs, and whilst the organisation says this work will continue, they will not be as visible on the island or be as close to the situation on the ground as previously.
At a meeting between the NGOs, volunteers, the UNHCR and the local authorities on Samos today, it became clear that the deal between the EU and Turkey have left a lot of European and local government agencies waiting for further instructions. No-one knows what the results of the deal will be on the ground, and hence they wait for orders from above. In the meantime refugees and migrants wait in the now locked up detention centre or on the harbour, where those with their registration papers wait for the ferry to take them to Athens. Many would like to stay on Samos and are therefore ready to claim or have already claimed asylum here, but without instructions the government agencies do not know if this is possible and hence people are forced to leave for the chaotic and overcrowded camps on the mainland. According to the Guardian, the uncertainty and bad conditions in the camps on the mainland Tuesday led one refugee to set himself alight. He survived after being doused with water and taken to hospital.
The deterioration of the situation in the detention camps on the Greek islands and the consequences of the EU-Turkey deal also made Samaritan’s Purse and Save the Children to stop their activities on the Greek islands earlier today. Furthermore, the International Rescue Committee and the Norwegian Refugee Council have said they do not want to be involved in the blanket expulsion of refugees because it contravenes international law. Therefore, they have also stopped their activities on the islands.
Facts about Greece:
Population: 10,8 mio.
Area: 131.957 km2
GDP per inhabitant: $25.800 down from $26.400 (2012)
Form of government: Democracy
Source: CIA Factbook (2015)