Speaking at the end of an official visit to Greece (5-6 December 2017), Stella Kyriakides, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), has recognised the great efforts Greece continues to make to cope with the massive influx of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, and called for greater solidarity among European States, in order to both relieve pressure on Greece and other Mediterranean countries, and to effectively address the migration and refugee crisis in Europe.
In her contacts with the Greek authorities, as well as during her visit to the refugee accommodation centre in Eleonas, President Kyriakides was able to witness the huge progress made by Greece in recent months, in particular since the ad hoc committee of the Assembly’s Bureau visited the country in May 2016. She therefore congratulated the authorities on the significant improvements made regarding the conditions in reception centres and for having closed many informal camps throughout the Greek mainland, where conditions were reported to be very poor.
“However, while the situation on the Greek mainland is now more or less under control, I was saddened to hear reports of the extremely difficult conditions on the Greek islands, which all agree need immediate intervention and improvement. Moria camp in Lesbos, for instance, is currently hosting almost 5,000 people according to UNHCR data, while the centre is equipped to house no more than 1,800. This means that more than 3,000 people live there in unsuitable shelters or tents, with limited access to basic services. The situation is now going to be getting worse with the arrival of winter.”
She continued: “While I share the Greek authorities’ concerns and disappointment regarding the lack of European solidarity, I have called on them to intensify their efforts to guarantee humane conditions in these camps, by alleviating pressure on the islands and transferring more people to the Greek mainland, and by launching and implementing an appropriate and comprehensive plan for the winter, without further delay.”
President Kyriakides also underlined that – no matter what initiatives are taken – the refugee and migrant flows will not stop, and that Greece alone cannot address this situation. She therefore called for more solidarity from European States, urging them to stop avoiding their responsibilities and putting their own interests ahead of people’s lives. “It is disappointing that, years after the outbreak of the crisis, and despite the numerous calls made by the Assembly and other international organisations, and the many efforts undertaken to ensure that responsibility is shared equitably among all European States, we are still struggling to make all European countries accept that this is a European problem, and that a European response is needed. We do not want a Europe where some countries feel punished simply because of their geographical situation. Unity, solidarity and mutual support were at the very heart of the European ideal: we must come back to these values. Only by acting in solidarity and by sharing responsibility can Europe be strong, credible and effective.”
The situation of unaccompanied minors was also a focus of her discussions with Greek interlocutors, in particular during the visit to the accommodation centre for unaccompanied and separated minors, “Praksis”. While she praised the efforts being made on the mainland to create new shelters and integrate these young boys and girls into Greek society – for instance, by ensuring access to Greek schools – cases of protective detention are still reported, and the situation on the islands is extremely worrying. “Today, the majority of children living on the islands remain unprotected, with little access to education. Their situation must be urgently addressed before winter.”
In her discussions, Ms Kyriakides also focused on the rise of racism and xenophobia, and the importance of taking steps to immunise our societies from hatred and intolerance. “The risk of a new wave of xenophobia is high and exists throughout Europe, including in Greece. This is especially tangible in conditions of economic crisis and during the influx of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. I warmly welcome the zero tolerance approach towards hate, at the highest political level, and encourage the authorities to continue on this path, by strengthening efforts aimed at building an inclusive society, and by co-operating with relevant NGOs in fostering mutual trust and understanding between members of different communities,” she said.
Finally, in highlighting the excellent relations existing between Greece and the Council of Europe, President Kyriakides raised the issue of the key Conventions still awaiting signature and/or ratification by Greece. “I was encouraged by the assurances that the process for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention is well under way and that it should be finalised by the end of January 2018. I look forward to counting Greece among the countries that have ratified this important instrument!”
During her visit, the PACE President met with the President of the Hellenic Republic, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Migration Policies, the Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs for European Affairs, the Alternate Minister for National Defence, as well as with the Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament. During her visit Ms Kyriakides also met with members of the Greek delegation to PACE and with leaders of the different political groups in the Hellenic Parliament. Finally, she also visited the refugee accomodation centre in Eleonas and the accomodation centre for unaccompanied and separated migant minors “Praksis”.