Greece’s Aegean Islands are Overflowing with Migrants

Greece has been struggling to handle the flow of migrants since the European migrant crisis in 2015. So far in 2019, 59,448 migrants have arrived in Greece, most of whom came from either Afghanistan or Syria. Most migrants live in cramped camps in the Aegean islands, in accordance with a 2016 agreement between Greece, Turkey, and the European Union, that migrants would remain in Greece’s Aegean islands in the hopes of curbing illegal immigration further into Europe. These camps, however, hold too many people. Migrants staying there have limited access to basic necessities such as space for shelter, food, medical care, and sanitation. In 2018, 66,966 people applied for asylum in Greece, most of whom were young men. Of these people, 12,618 (41.0%) were granted refugee status, 2,574 (8.4%) were granted subsidiary protection, and 15,559 (50.6%) were rejected. After receiving their decisions, 15,297 migrants then appealed their cases. Because the Greek government rarely forces deportation after migrants are rejected for asylum, many remain in the country because they cannot afford to leave and/or lack the proper travel documents. To combat this, the government worked with the European Union to create a program of voluntary deportation, in which migrants who wish to return to their countries of origin are provided with a small sum of cash, as well as one-way travel documents and tickets. The Greek government plans to deport 10,000 people within the next year and move 20,000 off of the islands. Despite this, the camps remain overpopulated, with the migrants living in rough conditions. These camps show the European Union’s failure to properly handle the increase in migration to Europe over the past decade; countries such as Greece must hold the majority of migrants as they wait for their asylum cases to be processed. Greece cannot support so many migrants and refugees with its own substantial economic issues. Until the EU handles the situation properly, the United States can help by funding NGOs such as the UN refugee agency UNHCR and the International Rescue Committee (IRC)

The UNHCR addresses asylum and migration in Europe by gathering data and trends on the subject and using the data collected to create programs that help migrants, as well as by helping governments form a stable asylum process. Governments use the data collected by the UNHCR, and the UNHCR has played a substantial role in the creation of an international refugee framework. By funding the UNHCR, the United States would help create the laws and agreements regarding migration which would resolve the current issue, and prevent this issue from repeating. One example of this is the Global Compact on Refugees, a plan to ensure that refugees receive the support they need via recognition of the necessity of international collaboration, for which the UNHCR led the talks.

The IRC provides relief for migrants and refugees. Since 2015, they have helped more than 50,000 migrants in Greece, providing them with care packages, giving them emotional support, and providing women and children with safe spaces. They work to ensure the employment of migrants, provide and teach healthy emotional habits as well as sanitation practices, help clean the areas migrants live in, and provide drinking water at sites in Eleonas (near Athens) and Kara Tepe (on Lesbos). Funding the IRC would provide immediate aid for migrants in need.

To address the immediate concern of the dreadful living conditions in Greece’s migrant camps, the State Department should provide funding for the IRC, which provides support for migrants and refugees in need. To address the larger issue causing the problem in Greece, the state department should fund the UNHCR, which gathers statistics and addresses the need for Europe as a whole to accept responsibility for migrants, rather than just a few countries. In funding these two NGOs, the state department could help the migrants in Greece, as well as help to fix the issue of migration to Europe as a whole.

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