NEWS

Migrants in tug of war

A day after coming ashore on the Ionian island of Zakynthos, the 1,200-odd migrants who had spent a week in dangerous and cramped conditions on a storm-tossed ship yesterday became the focus of a tug of war between the government, which wants to send them back to Turkey, and international organizations that want them all to have an opportunity to apply for political asylum. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Amnesty International yesterday called on the government not to carry out the immediate deportations that government spokesman Christos Protopappas had announced. Local authorities on Zakynthos have undertaken to house and feed the migrants on the island for 15 days, after which they want their guests to leave. Most of the people are Kurds and Arabs from Iraq, with some Afghans and Pakistanis. Amnesty International criticized Protopappas, forcing him to say yesterday that refugees would not be among those to be sent back to Turkey, from which they boarded the ship more than a week ago. It is unacceptable for the government to label all these people as ‘illegal immigrants’ without examining each case separately, said AI representative Aristides Mavrogiannis. Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, who arrived in Athens yesterday, said that the subject of illegal immigrants being returned to Turkey was one of the issues that he would discuss with his counterpart, George Papandreou. There is one other subject, which I know is very important, especially for Greece, that we will take up. We are working on a protocol on readmission which is about to be finalized. If we cannot finalize it, we will bring it to a point where it should be almost finalized, Cem said. According to sources, Ankara will not take back these migrants, arguing that their ship docked in Greece. By last night, the last of the estimated 1,200 people on the 50-meter cargo ship, the Brenler, were to be taken ashore. About 300 people, including 180 children, were moved from a basketball stadium, where most are being kept, to a hotel. Another 41 people remained in Zakynthos hospital for treatment, mostly for exhaustion and dehydration. We will stay here to ensure that these people will receive hospitality and have access to file for asylum, in accordance with international treaties, Frangiski Chronopoulou, a member of a UNHCR team which arrived on the island yesterday, told Kathimerini. In a statement, the UNHCR expressed appreciation for the warm welcome given the migrants by people of Zakynthos, who flooded the reception center with food, clothes and blankets. But it noted that they should be facilitated in being able to apply for asylum and to have this examined justly and quickly, and to not be deported, because this will place their lives and freedom in jeopardy. Aegean cooperation