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14th December 2016, 10:48:21 UTC

With the EU-Turkey deal faltering and more than 16,000 refugees languishing in appalling conditions on the Greek islands, Amnesty International is calling on EU Heads of State and Government to commit to concrete action to save lives and restore dignity as they meet in Brussels this week.

The organization is proposing six concrete steps, beginning with asylum-seekers being moved from the Greek islands to the mainland where their asylum applications can be processed, with further relocation across mainland Europe.

“European leaders want to keep refugees and migrants on the Greek islands – out of sight, and therefore out of mind. But with the conditions getting worse as winter sets in, ignoring them risks people’s lives and dignity,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland.

“The steps to alleviate this suffering are straightforward, but what is lacking is the political will. Unless our leaders change course, the abysmal approach to the manageable number of people arriving at Europe’s borders will go down in history as a stain on our collective conscience.”

Conditions on the islands are dangerous and have even proved fatal – recently a woman and child died after a gas explosion. Refugees and migrants, including children and vulnerable families, are sleeping in tents exposed to the cold and heavy rain, without adequate sanitation and hygiene, and in constant fear of racist attacks or other types of violence, including gender-based violence.

Some refugees have been on the islands for several months without having access to an asylum procedure. Others have chosen to return “voluntarily” so to escape the conditions in which they are held and the uncertainty over their fate. Amnesty International has also documented cases of refugees who were returned against their will, despite having expressed a wish to claim asylum.

Despite having a right to family reunification under EU law, some refugees are unable to reunite with family members in other EU countries. The European Commission is now suggesting they should be returned to Turkey and seek family reunification from there, in a move seemingly motivated by a desire to increase the numbers of people returned under the deal.

Amnesty International’s proposed six-step solution for European leaders involves:

  1. Immediately transfer people to mainland Greece
  2. Step up relocation and family reunification efforts with a view to moving people onto other European countries
  3. Ensure speedy registration of asylum-seekers stranded on the islands
  4. Establish safe and legal routes, including a large scale resettlement programme from Turkey
  5. Support Turkey to develop its asylum system
  6. End returns under the EU-Turkey deal

“The human cost of the EU-Turkey Deal should act as a warning against future deals with other countries. Yet leaders are signing more every week, with scant regard for cost to lives and for how Europe’s values are cheapened,” said Colm O’Gorman.

“Moving asylum seekers outside Europe’s borders, outsourcing responsibilities simply does not work. It jeopardises their human rights and wilfully ignores the reasons why they left their homes in the first place.”