Author: Daphne Panayotatos | www.refugeesinternational.org | 24 November 2020
Since the start of 2020, glaring headlines have called attention to the situation at Greece’s borders. For years, Greece has hosted large numbers of asylum seekers and refugees fleeing conflict and poverty, primarily in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. In 2015, it was the main entry point for the more than 1 million people who sought safety in the European Union that year. Most individuals reach Greece from Turkey, risking their lives in dangerous sea crossings to Greek islands in the northern Aegean Sea. Although the number of arrivals has fallen significantly since the height of Europe’s so-called “refugee crisis,” thousands of people continue to arrive in Greece. At the end of 2019, the UN Refugee Agency reported it was hosting 190,900 “people of concern.” The failure of Greece and the EU to establish coherent and humane refugee policies means many languish in appalling conditions as they try to navigate the asylum process and access critical protection.
The already dire situation has evolved rapidly in 2020. First, Greece unlawfully suspended access to asylum in response to a Turkish ploy to send refugees into the European Union. Soon after, the coronavirus plunged the world into a public health crisis that put displaced communities at disproportionate risk. Greece’s strong initial response to the pandemic helped avert a humanitarian disaster in its refugee camps. But along with the praise came damning reports of authorities using aggressive, illegal tactics to keep asylum seekers and migrants away.