Need for genuine responsibility sharing among EU member states

Need for genuine responsibility sharing among EU member states

Call for Ireland to reinstate relocation of people seeking asylum from Greece

EU 

  • Only One-third of asylum relocations committed in 2015-2017 pledge met  
  • Commitments made after Moria fire less than half fulfilled  
  • Member state inaction leaving people seeking asylum in limbo 

Ireland  

  • Ireland fairs well on refugee resettlement commitments, but falls short on relocation
  • Call for Ireland to reinstate relocations from Greek Islands as soon as possible  

Greece  

  • People, including survivors of sexual violence and elderly persons, are detained without reason
  • Children are not receiving any education.
  • Increase in reports of domestic abuse and difficultly accessing support services due to Covid restrictions
  • One in five people have attempted suicide  
  • “They are replacing our names with numbers”   

Today, Oxfam and the Greek Council for Refugees released a report detailing the impact of EU countries’ failure to relocate people from Greek refugee camps. Tipping the Scales: the role of responsibility and solidarity sharing in the situation on the Greek islands, reveals that conditions in Lesbos fail to meet even minimum standards for humanitarian crises – while Europe moves towards replicating failed policies that created these untenable conditions. 

The joint report assesses EU member states solidarity programmes and how failures to meet commitments have contributed to pressure on the Greek Islands, spawning abysmal conditions, and systemic human rights abuses. The report also looks at the EU’s newly proposed asylum laws. In particular, it focuses on the proposals for responsibility sharing and solidarity mechanisms, finding that, despite promises of starting anew, the policies on the table fail to address the flaws that led to the overcrowded and inhospitable conditions in Greece.

In response to the report findings, Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “EU member states, including Ireland, need to engage in genuine responsibility sharing rather than relying on ad hoc solidarity programmes. While we are happy that the Irish government responded to the solidarity call to enter into the EU relocation and resettlement programmes in 2015, we urge them to now engage with and support the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum’s solidarity mechanism by pledging to accept robust relocation quotas to support countries like Greece and encourage responsibility sharing among member states.” 

Greece, a country quickly overwhelmed as the number of people seeking asylum in Europe increased due to the outbreak of war in Syria in 2015, has since has harshened its stance on asylum. Reforms to their asylum law, increased use of detention and more barriers to access asylum are just some of the measures taken.   

Spyros-Vlad Oikonomou, Advocacy Officer at the Greek Council for Refugees, said: “Particularly since the EU-Turkey deal was struck, the EU and its member states have been trying to export their responsibility to protect refugees and asylum seekers. In Greece, the deal saw harsher laws, overcrowded camps and a failing reception system. Europe must overhaul its asylum laws to protect the rights of those seeking safety, while honouring the principle of solidarity between member states”

Clarken said: “Last year, in the aftermath of the Moria fires, the Irish government made commitments to resettle families and unaccompanied minors from Lesbos. These gestures of solidarity with Greece and the families and young people trapped in camps on the fringes of Europe are commendable. 

“However, it is now time to deliver on these commitments, and to reinstate relocations from Greece as soon as it is possible to do so.”

Meanwhile the human cost is mounting in Lesbos. One in five people have attempted suicide; people including survivors of sexual violence and elderly persons are detained without reason; there is a risk of sexual assault; and children are not receiving any education. Women are particularly affected. There has been an increase in reports of domestic abuse while movement restrictions due to Covid are preventing women from accessing support. People in Lesbos are left without a future.  

Clarken continued: “Our failure to respond effectively as a European community is extinguishing hope – to the despairing extent that people are attempting to take their own lives.  

“The situation in the camp is dire – and time spent in waiting there is protracted. The drop in temperature and winter conditions has particularly affected people – who continue to live in tents and makeshift shelters. Insufficient or unstable power supplies have made it impossible for many to even warm themselves, while women in the camp continue to express concerns over their health and safety, as they are exposed to various security risks, including gender-based violence. 

Barlin*, currently staying in a prolonged administrative detention in Kos, said: “We don’t even have our basic rights as refugees. We are not free and we don’t know for how long [we will remain detained]. They are replacing our names with numbers, treating us as if we were in prison, calling us by our numbers.” 

Clarken concluded: “While the new Pact on Migration and Asylum aims to balance responsibility sharing across the EU, this will only happen if member states choose to act in solidarity and to uphold and protect a person’s right to seek asylum and to have their application assessed in a fair and timely manner. The alternative is to move towards further deterrents, which erode and undermine these rights – and mean that we are failing in our own international obligations – obligations designed to protect lives. 

“Our inaction is at best leaving people in limbo, at worst, it is sending them back to the persecution they tried to escape.”  

*Names have been changed  

END

Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org

Notes to editors:

  • The Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) was established in 2015 in response to the refugee crisis. Under this programme, the Government committed to accepting up to 4,000 people into the State, primarily through a combination of the EU Relocation Programme and the UNHCR's Refugee Resettlement Programme. A total of 3,358 people have arrived in Ireland to date under the various strands of the IRPP. You can read more about Ireland's response and commitments here: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/ede36-irish-refugee-protection-programme/
  • Relocation: 
  1. According to OPMI, in 2015 the Irish government committed to relocate 2,622 people via the EU Relocation Programme. The most up to date publicly available relocation data is from a PQ dated Oct. 6 2020: Ireland has relocated 1,022 people, including six unaccompanied minors, from Greece under the first phase of the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP), and consider their commitment met and the scheme concluded (PQ 30 July 2020). 
  2. Phase two of IRPP only includes commitments on resettlement and community sponsorship: "In December 2019, a programme was put in place to welcome up to 2,900 refugees between 2020 and 2023 through a combination of resettlement and the new community sponsorship initiatives."
  • Ireland has yet to meet the commitment made last year to relocate families and unaccompanied minors from Greece after fires destroyed Moria camp on Lesbos.
  • Read the Lesbos bulletin, the February update on the situation in the EU ‘hotspot’ refugee camps in Lesbos. It details quotes from people currently living in camps in Greece, how the situation is falling short of Sphere standards - a set of principles mapping out the minimum standards in humanitarian settings with respect to access to water, sanitation, hygiene promotion, food, security and nutrition.    
  • Read our report: Tipping the Scales: the role of responsibility and solidarity sharing in the situation on the Greek islands. It details how failed EU policies and the shirking of responsibilities resulted in the abysmal situation in Greece, and how the current proposals replicate these failed policies and allow for the same shirking of responsibility.       
  • International Rescue Committee research, The Cruelty of Containment: The Mental Health Toll of the EU’s ‘Hotspot’ Approach on the Greek Islands, has found that one in three asylum seekers report suicidal thoughts, and one in five have already attempted to take their lives due to the impact of prolonged containment in 2018–20.    
  • Only one-third of the agreed upon 160,000 relocations took place from the 2015-2017 pledge. Following the fire in Moria, European countries made promises for the relocation of 5100 people. With 2050 relocations, less than half of this has been fulfilled. This was partly due to flight restrictions related to COVID-19, and partly due to cumbersome procedures, slow implementation and ’cherry picking’ practices by (at least) some member states.    
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