NEWS

Rights groups express concern as Aegean death toll rises

rights-groups-express-concern-as-aegean-death-toll-rises

As the death toll from a migrant boat accident north of Lesvos in the eastern Aegean climbed to 43, including 19 children and one baby, human rights watchdogs on Monday criticized Europe’s failure to prevent the humanitarian disaster.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks urged Greece to improve reception conditions for refugees on Samos island, where many refugees are forced to sleep rough in substandard and overcrowded facilities.

“While commending the significant efforts deployed by the Greek authorities to address the migrant flows, I call on them to take all necessary measures to provide refugees with adequate shelter and protection in line with their human rights obligation,” said Muiznieks, also calling on the European Union to step up its assistance to Greece whenever such failures are caused by lack of resources.

Amnesty International’s Greek branch added voice to the criticism, saying that inertia and lack of political will was costing lives in the Aegean.

“How many drowned refugees and how many dead children are required to activate European values?” said Giorgos Kosmopoulos, head of the organization’s Greek branch.

Evros fence

Amnesty also pointed a finger at the barbed-wire fence along the Greek-Turkish border in the northern Evros region, set up in 2012 to curb the flow of undocumented immigrants.

“The fence… has forced refugees and migrants to choose the more dangerous sea route from Turkey to Greece,” it said.

The allegation was shot down by Greek government officials. In an interview with Efimerida ton Syntakton Monday, Alternate Minister for Immigration Policy Yiannis Mouzalas said that demolishing the wall “will not lead to a positive result in the present circumstances.”

“On the contrary, it would risk exacerbating the problems for asylum seekers as well as Greece,” Mouzalas said.

His skepticism was shared by Alternate Minister for Citizens’ Protection Nikos Toskas. “The fence does not obstruct or send refugees in the direction of the islands.

This theory simply does not hold water,” he told Vima FM Monday.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), some 570,000 people have reached Greece from Turkey since January 1. Quoting firsthand accounts, the UN said that smugglers have in recent weeks been offering “discounts” of up to 50 percent to make the voyage aboard the rubber dinghies in bad weather.

On Wednesday, the first group of 30 asylum seekers will depart from Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport for Luxembourg as part of an EU-funded relocation scheme that will see some 160,000 people shared out among the bloc’s non-border nations.

The departure of the six families from Syria and Iraq will be overseen by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, European Immigration and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Parliament President Martin Schulz and Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.

“It is a symbolic move designed to urge and encourage European governments to show active interest in receiving refugees,” the government said in a statement.

Dijsselbloem nod

In a nod to overstretched Greece, Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem Monday said that the impact of the refugee crisis should be considered when assessing some members’ budgets.

“In some countries there’s a risk of derailing the budget, getting off track, and those individual cases the EU should… take into consideration,” the Dutchman said.