Aegean Grassroots Report

 

An overview of the humanitarian crisis in the Aegean from the perspective of NGOs and refugees.

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Rethinking migration policies

 

An approach to migration in Europe emphasising deterrence and securing external borders has turned a manageable migration flow to Greece into a humanitarian crisis on the Aegean Islands. This security-focused approach has created vast suffering and even loss of life in the ‘hotspot’ camps where nearly 30,000 people live in deplorable conditions. Human rights violations are a daily reality for all residents of these camps.

 

The data in this report is based on qualitative input provided by 21 grassroots organisations working with asylum-seekers on the Aegean islands. The organisations were invited to give input in written form to a survey consisting of open-ended questions. Next, this data was compiled with information from additional sources, including relevant reports and articles.

 

This report aims to provide a broad overview of the humanitarian crisis in the Aegean and offer pragmatic and rights-based solutions based on the expertise of grassroots organisations working with asylum-seekers here. Europe Must Act, on behalf of the grassroots organisations who contributed to this report, urges European leaders and governments to immediately evacuate the Aegean camps and exchange deterrence strategies for a more humane approach which puts the human rights of refugees and asylum-seekers at its core​.

 

Immediate Actions to Provide Relief to the Aegean Camps

Initiating an orderly and humane decongestion of the Aegean camps


The Aegean camps must be completely evacuated and their residents relocated to reception facilities that ensure dignified living conditions. This must be managed in a way that is orderly and humane. It requires the assistance and support of other European states in relocating asylum-seekers across Europe. The decongestion of the Aegean camps is not a huge logistical challenge. The graph below shows how 30,000 asylum-seekers and refugees (the latest figures being 28,200 as of August 18th 2020) could be distributed among European countries (EU27+3) proportionally to the GDP of each country. A more sophisticated model could be envisaged where other factors are taken into account, such as the number of asylum seekers and refugees currently present in each country. This simplified model, however, aptly demonstrates how manageable it is for people to be equitably distributed across Europe.




Recognising grassroots organisations and refugees as essential partners and stakeholders


This report has exemplified the critical roles of grassroots organisations and the refugee community in the provision of essential services and relief. The refugee communities’ efforts to self-organise during the lockdown force us to leave behind the image of the helpless refugee and instead recognise refugees as active stakeholders. Grassroots organisations have also proven themselves highly responsive and attuned to the needs of the communities that they serve. The criminalisation of solidarity must end and bottom-up initiatives supported by effective collaboration and funds. Both grassroots organisations and refugees must be consulted and informed regularly by relevant authorities on all aspects of camp management. We ask the authorities to do the following: A. Give advance warning of upcoming changes to EU, Greek and municipal policies that affect NGOs’ work on the ground. This will allow for smoother transitions in cases of changes required to the provision of relief and services. B. Grant access to resources such as buildings, equipment and funds used by the government and larger humanitarian organisations to increase grassroot and refugee organisations’ capacities for service provision. C. Include and consult grassroots organisations and refugee community representatives in decision and policy making processes. D. Ensure fair, effective and transparent registration procedures for NGOs as well as transparent and accessible information on legal decisions affecting residency permits of asylum-seekers. E. Set up or bolster independent and effective monitoring mechanisms that hold FRONTEX, national border agencies and security services to account.




Increase financial and technical assistance


Although people must be relocated from the Aegean to other European states as soon as possible, a considerable increase of financial and technical assistance to improve the lives of the people living in the camps is urgently required in the meantime. As aforementioned, basic services such as sanitation, healthcare, food, shelter, safety, legal support, education and leisure are all severely lacking. Greece should not be left to manage the situation in the Aegean by itself. The European Union and European governments have a moral responsibility to provide relief through the provision of expertise and funds. Some of this should be earmarked for grassroots organisations (see recommendation 02). We recommend that this assistance is used to bolster the following essential services: A. Medical care: Increase the number of medical staff including those trained to provide psychosocial support, medical equipment and, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, adequate quarantine facilities. B. Sanitation: Drastically increase the number of toilets and showers, making sure that these facilities are segregated by sex. Ensure running water 24/7 and the daily provision of a minimum 2.5L of drinking water per person. C. Shelter: Implement the construction of dignified shelters. In the short-term, efforts must be made to ensure that existing shelters in the camps can withstand all weather conditions. Guarantee stockpile of emergency shelters in case of loss of shelter in fires or severe weather. D. Legal support: Boost the number of legal staff available to improve the provision of legal information and support to asylum-seekers, ensuring fair hearing of cases. E. Education: Increase the capacity of non-formal education centres by increasing educational infrastructure and improve routes to accessing formal education by working with the Greek government. F. Internet access: Internet access must be ensured in the camps and initiatives by grassroots to provide it must be supported. G. Leisure: Ensure the availability of safe spaces as well as facilities for leisure and social activities which are essential for the mental health of camp residents.





Recommendations for Structural Changes

Initiating an orderly and humane decongestion of the Aegean camps


The Aegean camps must be completely evacuated and their residents relocated to reception facilities that ensure dignified living conditions. This must be managed in a way that is orderly and humane. It requires the assistance and support of other European states in relocating asylum-seekers across Europe. The decongestion of the Aegean camps is not a huge logistical challenge. The graph below shows how 30,000 asylum-seekers and refugees (the latest figures being 28,200 as of August 18th 2020) could be distributed among European countries (EU27+3) proportionally to the GDP of each country. A more sophisticated model could be envisaged where other factors are taken into account, such as the number of asylum seekers and refugees currently present in each country. This simplified model, however, aptly demonstrates how manageable it is for people to be equitably distributed across Europe.




Recognising grassroots organisations and refugees as essential partners and stakeholders


This report has exemplified the critical roles of grassroots organisations and the refugee community in the provision of essential services and relief. The refugee communities’ efforts to self-organise during the lockdown force us to leave behind the image of the helpless refugee and instead recognise refugees as active stakeholders. Grassroots organisations have also proven themselves highly responsive and attuned to the needs of the communities that they serve. The criminalisation of solidarity must end and bottom-up initiatives supported by effective collaboration and funds. Both grassroots organisations and refugees must be consulted and informed regularly by relevant authorities on all aspects of camp management. We ask the authorities to do the following: A. Give advance warning of upcoming changes to EU, Greek and municipal policies that affect NGOs’ work on the ground. This will allow for smoother transitions in cases of changes required to the provision of relief and services. B. Grant access to resources such as buildings, equipment and funds used by the government and larger humanitarian organisations to increase grassroot and refugee organisations’ capacities for service provision. C. Include and consult grassroots organisations and refugee community representatives in decision and policy making processes. D. Ensure fair, effective and transparent registration procedures for NGOs as well as transparent and accessible information on legal decisions affecting residency permits of asylum-seekers. E. Set up or bolster independent and effective monitoring mechanisms that hold FRONTEX, national border agencies and security services to account.




Increase financial and technical assistance


Although people must be relocated from the Aegean to other European states as soon as possible, a considerable increase of financial and technical assistance to improve the lives of the people living in the camps is urgently required in the meantime. As aforementioned, basic services such as sanitation, healthcare, food, shelter, safety, legal support, education and leisure are all severely lacking. Greece should not be left to manage the situation in the Aegean by itself. The European Union and European governments have a moral responsibility to provide relief through the provision of expertise and funds. Some of this should be earmarked for grassroots organisations (see recommendation 02). We recommend that this assistance is used to bolster the following essential services: A. Medical care: Increase the number of medical staff including those trained to provide psychosocial support, medical equipment and, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, adequate quarantine facilities. B. Sanitation: Drastically increase the number of toilets and showers, making sure that these facilities are segregated by sex. Ensure running water 24/7 and the daily provision of a minimum 2.5L of drinking water per person. C. Shelter: Implement the construction of dignified shelters. In the short-term, efforts must be made to ensure that existing shelters in the camps can withstand all weather conditions. Guarantee stockpile of emergency shelters in case of loss of shelter in fires or severe weather. D. Legal support: Boost the number of legal staff available to improve the provision of legal information and support to asylum-seekers, ensuring fair hearing of cases. E. Education: Increase the capacity of non-formal education centres by increasing educational infrastructure and improve routes to accessing formal education by working with the Greek government. F. Internet access: Internet access must be ensured in the camps and initiatives by grassroots to provide it must be supported. G. Leisure: Ensure the availability of safe spaces as well as facilities for leisure and social activities which are essential for the mental health of camp residents.





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