AYS Daily News Digest 18/1: EU member states want to send refugees back to Greece but not relocate them from there

While EU member states want to start sending back refugees to Greece under the Dublin agreement by March, they are slow to accept relocation and family reunion requests / New emergency center close to Belgrade opened, but still many people sleep in warhouses and makeshift camps / EU Commissioner Avramopoulos sees the problem on Greek islands but not the cause / Refugees being abandoned in mainland camp in terrible conditions

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Refugees in Belgrade lining up for food distribution. Photo: Mikel Konate / Santi Palacios

Dublin deportations yes, promised relocations no

In 2016 the Greek Asylum Service registered 51,091 applications for international protection. Additionally there are approximately 15,000 applications for full registration which will be completed in 2017. “Relocation remains the big challenge. As of 27 December, the Asylum Service had registered 21,431 applications from individuals who were eligible to participate in the program, while it had received 13,634 pledges from other EU Member-States,” the Asylum Service reports. There are 9000 individuals who are ready for relocation but no host country has been found yet. While the acceptance of the request should only take up to ten working days in reality it needs up to six months. “While Greece has sent to other Member-States 13,345 requests, 10,712 of these have been accepted and only 7,000 individuals have departed from Greece. There are serious delays even after the acceptance of outgoing requests for relocation.” The Asylum Service is blaming the other EU member states for not setting up sufficient reception places and then requesting the postponement of the transfer. On the other hand these EU member states want to go back to the Dublin agreement in March and send back refugees to Greece to run through the asylum process there. Indeed the asylum process can, and in most cases assumably will, include an application for relocation. Already in 2016 Greece’s Dublin Unit received 4,415 requests to return protection seekers but only three were sent back to Greece.

Part of the in general still active Dublin agreement is the right of family reunification. In 2016 the Greek authorities sent 4,886 requests to other EU member states. Of these, 2,462 have been accepted up to now and 1,001 have been rejected. In 1,107 cases the people continued their way on their own to avoid long waiting times.

The report reveals that in more than 44 percent (5144 out of 11,511) of the international protection claims on the Aegean islands made within the framework of the EU-Turkey deal it was judged that the asylum seekers in question would remain in Greece. The number of claims rejected in the first instance was 3,756.

Serbia

Around 1200 refugees were still sleeping rough in the streets of Belgrade last night. Some 200 were transferred with buses to a new emergency center in Obrenovac, around 30 kilometers away from the Serbian capital. Meanwhile MSF set up tents in Belgrade and will provide an improvised sheler for at least up to 100 people.

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Leaving Belgrade to Obrenov. Photo: Refugee Aid Serbia

Also Borderfree Association arrived in Belgrade to support the people living in the streets. They found some 70 homeless, sleeping unprotected in a car park in temperatures of zero degrees. Volunteers distributed the first sleeping bags and ordered 300 more which should arrive in the next few days. Other volunteers managed to deliver donations especially for vulnerable children, as well as winter clothes for men and women and emergency blankets to Serbia, which will be distributed in the coming days. Refugee Foundation Serbia has already brought some items to Krnjača, where 1000 people, among them 550 children, live. RFS is still looking for volunteers for English classes and to animate the kids. If you want to join them, please contact them.

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It’s what they call their shelter and bed: a car park. Photo: Borderfree Association

At the moment there are around 300 children in the city, Help Refugees reports. Alice Aedy, the Help Refugees spokesperson for Serbia said: “The conditions here are unimaginable. No toilets or hot water. They feel they’re living like animals.” It should be added that in Europe millions of animals sleep in warm flats and houses with their own beds and sometimes even toilets. And people who take care of their well-being. Of course the people stuck in Serbia are aware of this fact, so it’s not astonishing that a refugee told some volunteers, “In Europe you wouldn’t let your dogs sleep outside in this weather. Why are we being treated like this?” According to Help Refugees around 1200 people are sleeping in an abandoned warehouse and an estimated 1000 more people in makeshift shelters around it. This would mean that a total of around 2200 is without appropiate shelter in Belgrade. In its report of 15th January, UNHCR only mentioned the 1200 homeless refugees, including 200–300 boys.

Greece

On Lesvos today 20 people arrived: eight men, four women and eight children, no medical cases. Up to the morning no new registrations were reported. During his visit to Lesvos, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs, said, “It simply cannot be that refugees are left out in the cold, to brave the worst of winter without a roof over their heads. Solutions must be found today, not tomorrow, not next week, but now.” While underlining that the “EU-Turkey statement is what allowed us to put a stop to the tragic loss of life at sea, but managing the biggest refugee crisis Europe has ever seen remains a collective European responsibility”, he did not mention that the EU-Turkey statement is what created the desperate situation on the islands and that the people stuck there have been waiting for solutions not since today but for months. Nevertheless he is “confident that space will be found for the winterised UNHCR tents, financed by the European Union, to be set up as a temporary, humanitarian action.” He also did not see that it’s still volunteer efforts that often make a difference in the field, like Movement on the Ground working tirelessly to improve conditions.

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The situation on Lesvos and other islands is still desperate. Photo: Movement On The Ground

Meanwhile the Greek Ministry of Health published an updated map with sites in the country, which can be found here.

As volunteers on the mainland report, they visited a shelter on Sunday and found terrible conditions. People are left alone without proper supplies and with frozen water pipes and toilets, no electricity, no heating in apartment blocks in Northern Greece. To get water, they have to go to the sea. Most of the people have left and gone back to freezing camps, but there are still about 20 families inside. All the children are sick.

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No kitchen, no water, no heat in Northern Greece. Photo: Geo Messmer

After days of being abandoned by the UNHCR and other NGOs “due to bad weather”, in which they did not have running water or information about what would happen to them, the relocation to Athens and Thessaloniki started when the sun came out again, Eko Project reports. The 600 residents of Alexandreia were not that lucky. The temperatures may be around zero, but they are expecting new arrivals.

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Vasillika. Photo: Eco Project

In a new critical report, Human Rights Watch points out that “Refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants with disabilities are not properly identified and do not enjoy equal access to services in reception centers in Greece.” They have particular difficulties getting basic services and have limited access to mental health care. Several NGOs told HRW they have few or no targeted programs to respond to the rights and needs of disabled people.

In Athens dozens of people have stormed a school which planned to offer after school classes to 25 children of refugee families in a camp nearby, various media report. The group was reportedly led by Yiannis Lagos, a member of the Greek Parliament for the far-right party “Golden Dawn”. Some party members were reported to be with him. According to Greek officials, they were threatening the staff. They also punched teachers and parents who wanted to discuss the plans.

For volunteering opportunities in Athens check this post.

France

A few days ago the French authorities launched “Operation Big Cold”, promising to offer everyone sleeping rough in the streets appropiate shelter. But they are failing to accomodate “the most vulnerable people in France”, Paris Refugee Ground support reports. They saw people, maybe 150, being transferred to warm spaces overnight, but no one they know got a response when calling the hotlines. Another volunteer reports that when he called the hotline he got the answer, “It depends on whether space becomes available, you have to call us between 6h and 8h30 or after 19h”. The Interior Minister Bruno Le Maire said “there will be enough places for everyone” in shelters. The hotline staff also said anyone can call 115, “but only the person concerned can make a demand”, adding that they have translators. Bruno Le Maire calls on citizens to call 115 “as soon as they see people in distress”

Furthermore, the 1000 Red Cross volunteers promised by the Mayor have not been seen on the ground so far.

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People still sleeping in the streets of Paris. Photo: Paris Refugee Ground Support

Netherlands

In Amsterdam the social hub Lola Lik will celebrate its opening on 20th January. It’s situated next to the reception center Wenckebachweg, which accomodates around 1000 refugees. Everyone is invited to join in.

Austria

A 40-year-old smuggler has been sentenced to four years in jail. In August 2016 he crashed with his van on highway A1 while smuggling 36 refugees. Some of them were injured.

General

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, current head of the European Union’s presidency, urged member countries to consider opening humanitarian corridors for people fleeing conflicts. He also said the EU should think about deals with African countries similar to the one with Turkey in order to reduce sea crossings. People should be screened in Africa to check whether they want to come for economic reasons or are eligible for asylum.

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Daily news digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and refugees on the route, but also for journalists and other parties.

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