On the Greece-Turkey border, many people are risking their lives fleeing the death caused by war once again.
They are Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis who have begun to move closer to the nearest European border, namely that of Greece. According to the International Organisation for Migration, there are around 13,000 people along the 120 kilometres of land border between Greece and Turkey, many of them children, who spend their nights outside with temperatures close to zero.
In the aftermath of Turkey’s offensive on Syria and the escalation of the conflict in the Iblid area, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced the opening of the borders, turning back on the decision to close the route outlines in the financial agreement signed with the European Union in 2016.
In addition to these desperate people, there are those who are moving to the Greek islands that face Turkey with makeshift boats. In this case, the situation on the island of Lesbos is paradigmatic, in particular in the Moria refugee camp where, according to Oxfam data, despite a capacity of 3,000 places, almost 20,000 people were resident as recently as last October in inhumane and unacceptable conditions, waiting for an assessment of their asylum applications.
Many men, women and children, entire families who, after surviving the bombs dropped on their homes in Syria and have tried to reach Europe for a better life, have found themselves living in the cold, in the mud, in the puddles and in unthinkable hygiene conditions.
There are reports that many in the camps, especially children who, after witnessing the war, the death of loved ones and the violence of the camps, in desperation, make gestures of self-harm or attempt to commit suicide.
On top of this situation there is also the decision of the Greek authorities to militarise the borders and to suspend the right to asylum for a month. Images of brave photojournalists who continue to document the unprecedented and inhuman violence towards refugees surface across the media.
Europe will have to provide answers
A 22-year-old Syrian man from Aleppo was killed by police and a six-year-old boy died by drowning while trying to land on the island of Lesbos after the boat was hit by the Greek coast guard.
In an attempt to create barriers both in the sea and on land to stem the arrival of these people trying to escape from the war, who in the coming days could become more and more numerous, Europe’s humanity once again disappears.
I will never forget the families and children assisted during the MOAS mission in the Aegean Sea. In 2015, the Turkish route experienced a significant increase in flows.
In addition to the land routes, the number of people from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia ready to make the short crossing from Turkey to the Greek coast in order to reach Europe was constantly growing.
At the end of 2015, with the arrival of winter, following the increase in the number of victims, the MOAS team decided to take action with a ship and two life boats, which were renamed with the names of Alan and Galip Kurdi. During this mission, MOAS carried out 30 SAR interventions and saved 1,869 lives between the end of 2015 and March 2016.
My fear is that today, once again, the number of victims may continue to rise and that all those who are fleeing the Syrian conflict will not be able to have the right to a better life.
Europe will have to provide answers and, while hoping that they are not once again agreements to detain the most vulnerable people in unsafe or inhumane conditions, the MOAS team continues to advocate for the implementation of safe and legal routes.
Through existing but poorly used instruments, such as family reunification, sponsorships such as humanitarian corridors and medical, study and work visa facilitation, national and European institutions could ensure a safe, legal and balanced entry system in respect of the safety of European citizens and of the fundamental human rights of migrant people by allowing those fleeing war or situation of danger and poverty to reach safely the countries of destination.
Regina Catrambone is co-founder of Migrant Offshore Aid Station