Acropolis lit up to highlight refugee plight
The world famous Athens landmark the Acropolis has been lit up to highlight the fate of thousands of refugees stuck in limbo in Greece because of soured European deal on asylum seeker processing.
A projected image on the Acropolis has drawn attention to the third anniversary of a deal between the European Union and Greece that has seen more than 70,000 asylum seeker trapped in legal limbo in Greece.
Amnesty International said it projected the light image on to the side of the Acropolis with the slogan ‘Humanity First, Refugees Welcome’ as a stunt to mark three years of inertia and failure to solve the impasse.
“Three years after the EU-Turkey deal was implemented, it is vital that this call for humanity is seen not just across Athens, but across the whole of Europe,” Amnesty said in a statement.
“The situation facing thousands of migrants and refugees on the islands is a scar on the conscience of Europe. Anyone looking up at the Acropolis can see thousands of years of civilisation. Anyone who’s looking towards the refugee camps on the Greek islands will see that our leaders have learnt nothing,” it said.
“It is time for our leaders to put humanity first. They must end the tragedy thousands of people are facing as a result of the EU-Turkey deal and act now to ensure that those trapped in abject misery on the islands are finally moved to safety on the mainland and on to other European states.”
The swap deal was instituted in 2016 as hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war and strife in the Middle East, especially Syria’s civil war, went to Turkey as a jumping-off point to reach more prosperous EU countries before the borders were shut to them.
Since then, more than 70,000 asylum seekers have been effectively abandoned in Greece, with 15,000 on islands near Turkey.
Meanwhile, Greece and the EU have been blaming each other for not doing more to deal with the problem.
Most of those languishing in Greece, locked out of the EU, are seeking asylum and have overwhelmed the capacity of the Greek authorities to provide them with shelter and necessities.
Many have been in camps and detention centers for two years or more in facilities human rights groups say are unfit for habitation.
The original deal was intended to be a cooperative arrangement with ineligible asylum seekers being returned but, in practice, only about one per cent have been sent back.
It was supposed to see one Syrian refugee sent to an EU country for every one returned from Greece to Turkey, but Amnesty claims figures show only about 8,000 resettlements of Syrians have been carried out in 2018, while around 3.6 million remain in Turkey.
Out of 32,494 total sea arrivals to Greece in 2018, returns to Turkey amounted to only 322.
Instead, Amnesty and other human rights groups say, the exercise has become a containment policy, trapping people in the Greece for extended periods of time.
Amnesty says most of those in camps in islands such as Lesbos, Samos and Chios are living in overcrowded conditions, many sleeping in unsuitable tents and face risks to their safety and security.
The camp on the island of Samos houses more than 4,000 people – five times its capacity.
AMES Australia Senior Journalist