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OSCE PA Migration Committee members hear from Greek Minister and civil society on the situation on Lesbos and other islands

In a discussion today with the Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum Notis Mitarachi, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Ad Hoc Committee on Migration members heard about the situation following the fires which destroyed the Moria Reception and Identification Centre in early September. Minister Mitarachi also provided an update on the handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the context of migration as well as plans for future reception and accommodation of asylum seekers.

Opening the meeting, Ad Hoc Committee Acting Chair Margareta Cederfelt (MP, Sweden) noted that the OSCE PA attaches particular importance to the development of the migratory situation in Greece and recognizes the extensive efforts made by consecutive Greek governments. The Assembly, she said, will remain committed to providing assistance while advocating for comprehensive, sustainable and people-centered solutions to challenges of migration.

Minister Mitarachi said that migration flows to Greece have dropped drastically since the beginning of the year, noting that transfers from Eastern Aegean Islands to the mainland have increased, significantly reducing the congestion at the reception facilities on the islands.

Regarding the recent fires at the Moria camp, he pointed out that a police investigation is being carried out in order to determine the causes of the fire, while six people have already been arrested and prosecuted. Mitarachi underlined that Greece responded swiftly to the needs of the people affected by the fire, setting up an emergency camp within four days while stressing that efforts are ongoing for the winterization of the new facility in co-operation with UNHCR and others.

Ad Hoc Committee members participating in the online meeting included Daniela De Ridder (MP, Germany), Lord Alfred Dubs (MP, United Kingdom), Gudrun Kugler (MP, Austria), Kyriakos Kyriakou-Hadjiyianni (MP, Cyprus), and Evangelos Syrigos (MP, Greece).

Members raised questions related to how the fires in September may have affected the processing of asylum claims, how to ensure that reunification with family members in EU Member States under the Dublin regulation, how to avoid a repeat of the Moria fires and the reaching of critical living conditions for people hosted. Other questions were raised about vulnerable persons who were facing considerable challenges related to their general psychological and physical wellbeing, notably women and unaccompanied minors, and whether more countries needed to step forward to contribute to relocation efforts for vulnerable asylum seekers.

Mitarachi responded that the fires had not destroyed any essential documents thanks to the digitization of the application process so the processing of asylum claims had not been significantly affected. He also discussed how Brexit has affected co-operation between Greece and the United Kingdom, noting that efforts continue to be taken to prioritize the reunification of families.

Other topics included efforts being made to secure the safety and provision of essential services in camps as well as challenges to the labour integration of migrants and refugees in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. With fewer jobs available, it is a big challenge for refugees to find employment, Mitarachi pointed out. Finally, while he welcomed the ad hoc relocation offers by EU Member States, he emphasized the need for a permanent and stable solution, highlighting the recently EU Pact for Migration as an important proposal that needs to be considered.

Following the discussion with the Minister, Ad Hoc Committee members were briefed by civil society organizations currently present on Lesbos.

Topics discussed included challenges related to the closure of two open accommodation camps currently hosting vulnerable refugees as well as the closure in the spring of a COVID-19 isolation facility set up by Doctors Without Borders. The participants also highlighted the increasingly difficult operating conditions for civil society organizations and journalists working in the area of migration in Lesbos and elsewhere in Greece.

With imminent camp closures, it was stressed that the Migration Committee can contribute to the consideration of permanent and durable solutions to provide safe and dignified living conditions for asylum seekers on the Greek Islands, in particular for minors and other persons in vulnerable situations and in need of specialized treatment.

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