UNHCR says won’t work in Greek ‘detention centers’ in swipe at EU-Turkey deal
LESBOS – Reuters
REUTERS photoThe United Nations refugee agency said on March 21 that it would not operate in “detention centers” on the Greek island of Lesbos for migrants and refugees arriving from Turkey, dealing a blow to the European Union’s agreement with Ankara last week.
The UNHCR said migrants and refugees were being held against their will at the reception facilities on Lesbos, and it would no longer transfer them there. The European Union-Turkey deal has crossed a red line in its policy, the UNHCR said.
The deal, in effect since March 20, is aimed at putting new arrivals in Greece who seek asylum on a fast-track for processing.
Until March 20, arrivals to Lesbos had been free to leave the Moria migrant camp and head for ferries to the mainland from where they would mostly head north via the Balkans in a bid to reach western Europe, particularly Germany.
Now, they are supposed to be held in Moria or one of four other centers set up on the Aegean islands of Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos, pending the outcome of their asylum applications.
“UNHCR is opposed to the mandatory detention of all arrivals as alternatives to detention on these islands are or should be made available,” a UNHCR spokesman on the island told Reuters in a statement.
“We have taken a principled decision to disengage from transportation to and from Moria, as since Sunday [March 20], freedom of movement is not guaranteed,” he said.
The UNHCR will continue providing assistance to refugees and migrants on Lesbos’s shoreline and in the port, and will focus on “monitoring and counseling” at Moria, he said.
The UNHCR is concerned that the EU-Turkey deal was “prematurely implemented,” it said, and that Greece does not currently have the systems in place on its islands to assess neither asylum claims nor the proper conditions in place to accommodate people awaiting the decision.