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Aid Groups Pull Back After EU Migrant Deal With Turkey


The camps in Greece that have been housing migrants are now detention centers. This is because the European Union and Turkey have agreed that migrants who managed to reach Greece by sea will now be returned to Turkey. They're not allowed to continue their journey north. Here's how two migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos see this change in policy.

MOHANED: We are imprisoned now. There is - we can't go outside, we can't do anything. We don't know what we will do. We don't know what is our destiny.

MAISA: We are not getting any good news. It's like every day passes, they say to us, wait. We don't know anything.

GREENE: Those are the voices of two migrants on the island of Lesbos yesterday. They gave their names only as Mohaned and Maisa. Now, the United Nations and other groups providing help to the migrants say they will not be associated with these detention centers, which they view as a violation of human rights.

And let's talk now with a humanitarian worker who's on the ground there. Panos Navrozidis is country director in Greece for the International Rescue Committee, and he's on the line. Panos, good morning.

PANOS NAVROZIDIS: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Tell me how your organization - the International Rescue Committee - came to this decision to not continue offering assistance here.

NAVROZIDIS: Absolutely. Essentially for the IRC - for the International Rescue Committee - this deal is unethical, and essentially it's unfair and unrealistic because by linking resettlement with readmission, essentially you are empowering the smuggling networks.

So what we decided as a humanitarian agency is to inform the Coast Guard that the IRC is going to stop immediately bussing refugees from the northern shores of Lesbos to the detention center in Moria.

GREENE: And explain to me why the IRC believes that is unfair, I mean, to move people back to Turkey with a plan potentially to resettle them in Europe?

NAVROZIDIS: Because what we're asking for is for direct resettlement. So what we believe is that there is absolutely no reason for these people to make this journey to Greece but then be returned back to Turkey and eventually some of them to be resettled in Europe or elsewhere.

So we need to find critical alternatives such as humanitarian visas, relocation when it comes to Europe and an unconditional resettlement scheme that provides direct service, if you allow me to put it like that, for the refugees to be eventually taken to a safer place.

GREENE: Panos, just explain to me, if you can, what assistance your organization - the IRC- was providing that it has decided now no longer to provide because of this decision.

NAVROZIDIS: So the main assistance that the International Rescue Committee has stopped providing at this point in time is the bussing service from the north to the south. In my most recent communication with the head of Coast Guard on the island of Lesbos, we have communicated that we cannot accept to have police escorts escorting, essentially, the buses and taking the refugees to Moria.

GREENE: I see. So this is - now that this is considered a detention camp and this is being used to house people by the authorities to deport them, the IRC has decided it doesn't it want to take part in that.

NAVROZIDIS: Exactly. So we cannot be part of an unfair system, we cannot be part of an unrealistic agreement, and we don't want to contribute in a system that we don't believe in.

GREENE: What impact do you think this decision is going to have on migrants on Lesbos? I mean, are there going to be people who are suffering and not getting assistance because you're not providing these buses?

NAVROZIDIS: This is really hard for us to tell right now because we have very, very limited visibility on what is happening at this point in time. Everything is run by the Coast Guard and the Greek police. I would say that our decision to stop bussing does not put any of - any refugees at risk. And it's a way of putting pressure to the Greek government to find better alternatives and make sure that the humanitarian agencies - they have access to the detention centers and essentially, these centers become again open facilities.

GREENE: All right, Panos, thank you very much for talking to us. We appreciate it.

NAVROZIDIS: You are welcome, David.

GREENE: We were speaking there on Skype with Panos Navrozidis. He's the International Rescue Committee's country director for Greece. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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