European asylum pact: a repetition of the same mistakes

Published: 15th February 2021

Conditions in Moria 2.0 (Mavrovouni) are below the minimum humanitarian standards, yet Europe wants to replicate the policies that caused it. This is according to the latest report, “Tipping the Scales: the role of responsibility and solidarity sharing in the situation on the Greek islands” and the Lesbos bulletin, a February update from the ground by the Greek Council for Refugees and Oxfam.    

The report assesses the impact of EU countries’ refusal to relocate asylum seekers on the Greek islands. It illustrates that they have consistently failed to show solidarity by not delivering on commitments to relocate people: either by refusing to participate in the first place or by not fulfilling their pledges. This has left thousands of people in need of assistance on the Greek islands. EU countries have also consistently tried to avoid their legal obligations by putting barriers in place to keep families apart.   

The lack of responsibility sharing puts more pressure on the Greek facilities, spawning abysmal conditions and systemic human rights abuses. Greece has made some improvements recently with the EU’s support. For example, in recent months, while the number of toilets in Mavrovouni remained at roughly one per 21 persons, the number of hot water showers grew from one per 7600 people to one per 47. However, this still does not meet even the most basic humanitarian standards. These conditions have a dramatic effect on the health and rights of women, who are often more at risk of abuse during their journeys.  

The report also looks at the EU’s newly proposed asylum laws. In particular, it focuses on the proposals for responsibility sharing and solidarity mechanisms. It finds that, despite promises of starting anew, the policies on the table fail to address the flaws that led to the overcrowded and inhospitable conditions in Greece.  

Oxfam's EU migration policy advisor, Raphael Shilhav said:   

“The EU has acknowledged the failure of its old policies. While the new migration pact aims to balance responsibility-sharing across the EU, it is copying many of the previous flawed policies with member states already questioning its purpose. Reworked policies and member state inaction are at best leaving people in limbo, at worst sending them back to the dangers they are trying to escape.”   

The pandemic has hit pause on people’s lives. It has prevented families from reuniting and slowed down asylum application processes due to restricted opening hours of Greek asylum services coupled with the lockdown in the camps. Access to legal aid has also been severely limited. These delays have led people to live in uncertainty and wonder when their lives will be able to resume.  

Greece, overwhelmed with a backlog of asylum applications, has harshened its stance on asylum. Reforms to Greek asylum law, increased use of detention and more barriers to access asylum are just some of the measures taken. Meanwhile, the human cost is mounting: one in five people have attempted suicide; people including survivors of sexual violence and elderly persons are detained without reason; there is a risk of sexual assault and children are not receiving any education. Women are particularly affected. With movement restrictions preventing women from seeking safety and professional help, there has been an increase in reports of domestic abuse. People stuck on Lesbos are left without a future.    

Spyros-Vlad Oikonomou, Advocacy Officer at the Greek Council for Refugees, said:   

“Particularly since the EU-Turkey deal was struck, the EU and its member states have been trying to export its responsibility to protect refugees and asylum seekers. In Greece, the deal saw harsher laws, overcrowded camps and a failing reception system. Europe must overhaul its asylum laws to protect the rights of those seeking safety, while honouring the principle of solidarity between member states”   

Barlin*, currently staying in prolonged administrative detention in Kos, said:    

“We don’t even have our basic rights as refugees. We are not free and we don’t know for how long [we will remain detained]. They are replacing our names with numbers, treating us as if we were in prison, calling us by our numbers. We are dependent on their mood regarding when we can see a doctor. They don’t care about people with vulnerabilities.”   

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons   


Notes to editors

  • Spokespeople are available in Athens and Lesbos (English, Greek) and in Brussels (English).   

  • Read the Lesbos bulletin, the February update on the situation in the EU ‘hotspot’ refugee camps in Lesbos. It details how the situation is falling short of Sphere standards - a set of principles mapping out the minimum standards in humanitarian settings with respect to access to water, sanitation, hygiene promotion, food, security and nutrition.   

  • Read our report: "Tipping the Scales: the role of responsibility and solidarity sharing in the situation on the Greek islands". It details how failed EU policies and the shirking of responsibilities resulted in the abysmal situation in Greece, and how the current proposals replicate these failed policies and allow for the same shirking of responsibility.      

  • International Rescue Committee research, The Cruelty of Containment: The Mental Health Toll of the EU’s ‘Hotspot’ Approach on the Greek Islands, has found that one in three asylum seekers report suicidal thoughts, and one in five have already attempted to take their lives due to the impact of prolonged containment in 2018–20.   

  • Only one-third of the agreed upon 160,000 relocations took place from the 2015-2017 pledge. Following the fire in Moria, European countries made promises for the relocation of 5100 people. With 2050 relocations, less than half of this has been fulfilled. This was partly due to flight restrictions related to COVID-19, and partly due to cumbersome procedures, slow implementation and ’cherry picking’ practices by (at least) some member states.   


Contact information

Jade Tenwick | Brussels ||+32 473 56 22 60 

Ira Papadopoulou | Athens | |+30 210 3800990 (ext. 102) 

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