The French government announced on December 12 it was ready to accept 400 identified refugees, waiting in Greece, over the coming months.
Christophe Castaner, France’s Interior Minister, told the French press agency AFP that faced with the level of “migratory pressure” on Greece, France had decided to show some solidarity. To that end, France “proposes relocating 400 refugees, identified in Greece, to France.”
More than 69,214 migrants have arrived in Greece, by sea and land, over the course of 2019. The latest UNHCR figures from October 31, 2019 showed that 37% of those arrivals come from Afghanistan and 27% from Syria. Arrivals peaked in September and October 2019. Greece has received more arrivals than any other Mediterranean state this year.
'Reaching out our hands'
We have decided to “reach out our hands” to Greece, explained Castaner, because of the “increase by 60% of arrivals from Turkey between 2018 and 2019. The minister noted that according to the UNCHR about 14,000 migrants had been attempting to make it to Greece from Turkey over land. Earlier this week, six migrants died of exposure trying to journey into Greece.
France hasn’t directly relocated migrants from Greece since 2017. In that year it ended a “relocation program” that began in 2015 at the height of migration arrivals. Between 2015 and 2017 France accepted 4,322 people. 30,000 people were relocated in the same period across Europe, writes InfoMigrants French.Towards a united European policy
The interior minister tweeted about his intention to welcome the 400 refugees during a visit from the new European Commission to Paris. EU Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas and EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson met with Castaner and his team as part of their tour of European capitals to prepare a new migration pact due in February 2020. Castaner added that Europe and all member states needed to work together to uphold the right to asylum and better control European borders.
Like many other European countries, Castaner warned against individual actions like France’s turning into common practice. We “need more permanent architecture in place,” said an interior ministry source.
France’s ambassador to Athen, Patrick Maisonnave told the Greek press agency ANA that Paris was also working with the Greek authorities and the European border agency Frontex to “control the borders and send back to their own country anyone who was not eligible for asylum.”
'No country can face this alone'
“No country can face this alone,” continued Maisonnave. “We will not leave Greece to deal with this humanitarian challenge alone, especially whilst its neighbor Turkey continues to threaten to open its doors and let migrants through.” Maisonnave added that the European system of asylum “needed to change” and that “the system in the hotspots [on the Greek islands] is serious.”This week the Greek government announced that the number of migrants stuck on the islands had officially reached 40,313.
Over the last few months the Greek government has been transferring thousands of migrants from the islands to centers on the mainland in a bid to ease the severe overcrowding that the camps and hotspots are facing. However, more arrivals mean that those living in camps on the islands are still living in problematic conditions.
Overcrowding on the Greek islands
Almost half of all arrivals are crammed in to insanitary conditions on the island of Lesbos. When the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visited Lesbos at the end of November he stated once again that “the conditions [on Lesbos] are very challenging and need urgent improvement.” He continued: “We cannot accept that [refugees] live in such miserable conditions.”
The Greek government plans to introduce new legislation in January 2020 which is hoped will speed up the processing of asylum applications. The conservative governing New Democracy party hopes that those whose asylum claims have been rejected will then be deported more quickly to neighboring Turkey under the existing EU-Turkey accords, which were signed in 2016.According to AFP, the French ambassador to Greece also confirmed that France would be sending experts on human smuggling to Greece as well as French translators, doctors and psychologists to help out in the refugee camps.