NGOs take step back as return of refugees by Greece approaches

NGOs take step back as return of refugees by Greece approaches

Staff from nongovernmental organizations were being withdrawn from the Idomeni refugee camp in northern Greece on Tuesday as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) also said it would be taking a less active role in providing assistance on the Greek islands in the wake of the European Union’s agreement with Turkey.

NGOs began withdrawing their personnel from Idomeni due to rising tension at the camp, where refugees had been protesting since the morning about not being able to continue their journey north. The aid organizations deemed that they would not be able to continue their work in the current circumstances.

Their withdrawal came as the UNHCR also distanced itself from the deal to return refugees to Turkey, which has led to the agency scaling down its operations in places such as Lesvos.

“Under the new provisions, these so-called hot spots have now become detention centers,” said UNHCR spokewoman Melissa Fleming.

“Accordingly, and in line with UNHCR policy of opposing mandatory detention, we have suspended some of our activities at all closed centers on the island.”

Until Sunday, refugees arriving on Lesvos had been free to leave the Moria hot spot and continue their journeys but under the terms of the agreement with Turkey, Greek authorities now have to hold them there or at one of four other centers set up on the Aegean islands of Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos, pending the outcome of their asylum applications.

The returns are due to begin on April 4. Part of the process involves Greece and Turkey exchanging police officials who will monitor the process. Six Turkish policemen have already arrived on Lesvos, while two Greek officers traveled to Cesme Tuesday. Another four will follow.

Also Tuesday, Greece’s public broadcaster ERT began news bulletins in Arabic aimed at keeping refugees informed about developments.

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