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Why is MSF closing its Moria project on Lesvos?
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has decided to suspend its activities linked to the Moria “hotspot” on Lesvos without further notice. The decision comes following the EU-Turkey deal which will lead to the forced return of migrants and asylum seekers from the Greek Island.
The following are answers to questions we have predicted will be asked of this decision.
Why is MSF closing its project in the Moria hotspot?
We have been working in Moria since July 2015, until now the centre's aim, even when becoming a hotspot, was to register people so that they get access to asylum either in Greece or elsewhere in Europe. We have been faced with substandard reception conditions in the centre since the beginning of our intervention and tried to mitigate their effects on people's health and well-being.
In the last months, we have observed increasingly more restrictive practices being put in place in this centre since it became a hotspot, with people being detained upon arrival based on their nationality, but the EU-Turkey deal has changed the very objective of the centre. From a registration centre allowing people to leave the islands and find protection somewhere in Europe, it has become a pre-removal centre offering insufficient guarantees for the respect of people's basic rights. In such context, we fear our assistance is going to be instrumentalised to allow for a mass expulsion operation and this is not acceptable for our organisation.
MSF will continue our search and rescue activities as well as first assistance post-rescue activities. As an independent humanitarian organisation, MSF is appalled by the adoption of this deal that aims at preventing people from seeking asylum in Europe and doesn’t want to participate to a cynical agreement that doesn’t guarantee that the basic protection and humanitarian needs are covered.
Why is MSF closing its activities now and not sooner?
During the last months, we have denounced several times the humanitarian crisis created by EU policies on the Greek islands. In different occasions, we have publicly criticised the Greek government for the lack of willingness to put in place adequate reception facilities and the EU governments for their obsession for deterrence measures over humanitarian ones. These policies are only creating additional suffering pushing people to more unsafe routes.
Today, the EU/Turkey is a step too far in the wrong direction, as it formalises a system that is jeopardising the right to seek for asylum in complete disregard of humanitarian and protection needs. We refuse to be associated with this cynical mechanism.
What activities is MSF closing down?
MSF will close all activities linked to hotspots of Lesvos, including the transportation of refugees to the “hotspot” and medical clinics inside it. MSF will continue to run all lifesaving activities and emergency medical care. In Lesvos we will continue to operate in our transit centre in Mantamados where new arrivals are offered first assistance and our sea rescue activities on the northern beaches of Lesvos. We will also continue to run mobile clinics on the island of Lesvos for those outside of the hotspot.
Did you consider this decision could have an impact on the medical conditions of refugees and migrants? Who will assure that the basic medical needs will be covered now that you leave?
MSF will do its best to mitigate the impact of this decision on the health and conditions of refugees and migrants arriving on the island. We will continue to conduct lifesaving rescue activities at sea and to guarantee medical emergency care after landing. We will also assure the transport to the MSF-run centre of Mantamados, where we will continue to assure shelter, assistance and medical care. Also, a medical mobile team will operate out of the centre to cover the needs.
What will happen to the people inside the Moria centre? Will they have access to medical care?
MSF has never been the sole and only actor providing medical care in Moria: after our departure, other NGOs are still accepting to provide medical attention to people inside the camp. Nonetheless, it remains understood that a gap in assistance will be created after wedepart. We will continue to provide assistance after arrival on the island in case of people’s overflow out of Moria camp with dedicated mobile teams. We are also currently exploring the possibility to support local hospitals in case of severe referrals out of Moria.
Why is MSF not closing the projects inside the other Greek hotspots?
Until today, MSF was providing medical care only at the hotspot of Moria. All other activities on the Greek islands were not directly linked to the implementation of the hotspots.
What conditions would be required for MSF to return to Moria?
The only condition for MSF to continue to work in the centre is the guarantee that protection and humanitarian principles will be respected. The EU/Turkey deal doesn’t offer these conditions and, on the contrary, formalises a system based on deterrence principles rather than humanitarian ones. As a humanitarian organisation working in more than 60 countries and dealing every day with the humanitarian needs of refugees all over the world we simply cannot accept to participate to a model that is jeopardising the right to seek asylum. If the logic of this deal was applied by all countries, there would be no refugees as all victims of conflict would be besieged in war zones. This is completely unacceptable.
What is MSF’s position on the hotspots?
MSF is concerned that the implementation of the “hotspots” will be done without taking in consideration the humanitarian and protection needs of the people arriving. Many of these people are escaping war and conflict, they are already in extremely vulnerable conditions and they have to be treated humanely. Since Moria became a hotspot, minimum standards of reception have not been put in place and most of the assistance has remained in the hand of NGOs and volunteers. Legal assistance and information is dramatically missing, in the light of the EU-Turkey deal, this is even more worrying.
After the EU/Turkey deal, the hotspots of Moria is becoming a closed centre, completely functional to the implementation of a cynical agreement that will send back people in search of protection to a third country. Whether the EU and Greece will put in place sufficient safeguards to make sure people’s rights and the non-refoulement principle will be respected remains highly unclear. So far, similar assurances have not materialised into concrete actions and our teams in the field, and in different projects, are seeing daily human rights violations such as violence from border guards and arbitrary push-backs.
What is it that you cannot accept about this agreement?
European leaders have completely lost track of reality and the deal the EU and Turkey is one of the clearest examples of their cynicism. For each refugee that will risk his life at sea and will be summarily sent back to Turkey, another one may have the chance to reach Europe from Turkey under a proposed resettlement scheme. This crude calculation reduces people to mere numbers, denying them humane treatment and discarding their right to seek protection.
In Idomeni, where our teams have been substituting state and European responsibilities for almost one year, we see the consequences of these unrealistic and inhumane calculations on people’s lives and health. These people are not numbers but women, children, families, 88 percent of whom are fleeing refugee-producing countries. They should be treated humanely and in the full respect of their rights and dignity.
Clearly, European leaders are willing to do anything, including compromising essential human rights and refugee law principles, to stem the flow of refugees and migrants to Europe. But these short-sighted, unrealistic and dangerous policies will not stop people from seeking protection in Europe. Contrary to what the EU is announcing, it will most certainly not stop smugglers from operating, it will only shift the flow.
What do you think about the humanitarian aid assured to Turkey to respond to the refugee needs?
As far as humanitarian aid is concerned, MSF's position is that it should be disconnected from migration and political agendas and focus and alleviating suffering only, regardless of the ability of the host country to prevent very desperate people from departing.
If the EU wants to solve this crisis, the needs of migrants and refugees must be put first. Keeping the focus on preventing people from coming through militarisation of borders, fences and deterrence will be in vain and will only create more suffering, as people will move towards other routes potentially more dangerous. Financial aid provided through the Refugee Facility and the humanitarian admission scheme must not be conditional to Turkey stopping refugees and migrants from reaching Europe. This would be inacceptable.
What do you think about the cases of violence at sea recently shown on international media and committed by the Turkish Coastguard?
On 17 February 2016, our teams, along with another volunteer group operating rescue operations in the north of Lesvos, witnessed the Turkish Coastguard using hoses to fire water into two boats of refugees and migrants trying to reach Greece. More recently, we have seen the same images of similar acts committed against refugees on the media. MSF is extremely worried to see such dangerous methods being used. The boats we assist at sea are, in general, un-seaworthy and overcrowded. Such reckless management can have dramatic consequences and should stop immediately.