A delegation of five MEPs from the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee, led by their chair, has, on Thursday, completed a visit to one of the EU’s most important migration front lines in Greece.
After what he described as a visit “with a very intense agenda” LIBE chair Juan Fernando López Aguilar (ES, S&D), gave a press conference on the mission’s findings.
“We’re not here to help Greece do better, we’re here to make sure that the EU does better”, he began, adding that “we were hearing directly from the interlocutors over the last three days, making sure that it is something to be learned, so that we make better laws, better EU regulation and ensure a better EU response.”
López Aguilar explained that the main goal of the legislation proposed by the EU’s new Migration Pact was to “fill the solidarity gap, which is the binding principle of the whole common European asylum system, and which has been missing for too long.”
Amid reports about alleged pushbacks of refugees by Greek authorities, or the EU’s external border agency Frontex, López Aguilar stressed that pushbacks were illegal under the EU’s Human Rights Convention, a point which the delegation had made repeatedly in its encounters, he said.
But he denied reports quoted by a journalist at the press conference that the delegation had witnessed for themselves a case of pushing back migrants by Greek authorities on the island of Samos on Wednesday.
“We were hearing directly from the interlocutors over the last three days, making sure that it is something to be learned, so that we make better laws, better EU regulation and ensure a better EU response” LIBE chair delegation head, Juan Fernando López Aguilar
According to the Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, who also participated in the press conference, a group of refugees had landed on the island undetected and had been hiding in the mountains. A local citizen had made contact with the delegation, telling them about the hidden group, and that he knew their whereabouts, something the minister called “peculiar”.
Subsequently, one delegation MEP went to seek the group out, accompanied by Greek police.
“It is not always beneficial for some migrants to register their asylum application in Greece when they land here, as they are obliged to by the Dublin Regulation”, the minister explained, “so they try to move further East to Belgium, the Netherlands or Germany where they expect better welfare conditions”.
The incident prompted the minister, and López Aguilar to highlight the need for the Union to urgently mitigate irregular migration by introducing more ways of legal migration.
“We should not let the people smugglers decide who comes into the European Union,” Mitarachi stated.
He also insisted on renewed common efforts to secure the EU’s external borders, a point conceded by López Aguilar in light of attacks on them by what he called “unruly neighbours”, naming Turkey, Belarus and Morocco.
“It [ The EU funded reception centre on Samos] feels like a prison, it is a prison, as soon as you close one gate. Make no mistake, this is exactly where Europe is heading, also with the new proposals by the Commission. Since 2015 we have learned to deter, to stop, to return. We have not learned to be more humane” German Greens/EFA LIBE MEP Damian Böselager
This was also highlighted by delegation member and rapporteur for the border aspects of the Migration Pact Fabienne Keller (FR, Renew), who tweeted on Thursday: “Meeting this morning at the port of Piraeus with the Greek Coast Guard. They protect a 13,000 km border along the Turkish coast. We discussed the lack of cooperation with the Turkish coast guard, a hybrid threat”.
Another focus of the mission was to visit the new multi-purpose reception centres. López Aguilar did not go into much detail on this at his conference beyond acknowledging the “huge improvements” Greece had made.
However, delegation member and shadow rapporteur on the wider of the two legislative proposals of the Migration Pact taken up by LIBE already, Pietro Bartolo (IT, S&D) commented on social media, including some images, saying, “Today we went to Samos, where we visited the new reception centre. Structurally new, but in fact an isolated ‘prison’, without any form of integration other than those proposed by the NGOs working on the spot.”
German Greens/EFA LIBE MEP Damian Böselager streamed his video impressions of the new Samos centre on Instagram, commenting at the end: “On the upside, this EU funded reception camp is more safe than the past Mória [a refugee centre on the Greek island of Lesbos, which had been described by the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières as “the worst on earth” in 2018 and burned down amid protests by inmates two years later]. Apart from that: it feels like a prison, it is a prison, as soon as you close one gate.”
Böselager concluded: “Make no mistake, this is exactly where Europe is heading, also with the new proposals by the Commission. Since 2015 we have learned to deter, to stop, to return. We have not learned to be more humane.”