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Executive Summary for March 23rd

We review the latest developments on refugee issues, including the U.N.’s concerns over the detention of asylum seekers in Greece, a continuing bottleneck at the Greek–Macedonian border, and fears of a backlash against refugees following the Brussels Airport terror attacks.

Published on March 23, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

U.N. Pulls Out Staff as Greece Detains Refugees

The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) pulled out staff members from the island of Lesbos and other parts of Greece as officials began to detain hundreds of refugees arriving after the E.U.-Turkey deal came into effect on Sunday, according to AP reports.

“The UNHCR is concerned that the E.U.-Turkey deal is being implemented before the required safeguards are in place in Greece,” the agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said, speaking to reporters in Geneva.

Without ironing out the key details of processing and returning asylum seekers in Greece to Turkey, the U.N. refugee agency says that the deal puts the most vulnerable, including many minors, at risk.

Ahead of the decision to withdraw staff, the agency has also said it was not a party to the E.U.-Turkey deal and hence “would not be involved in returns or detention,” but would instead “assist the Greek authorities to develop an adequate reception capacity,” according to a statement released on March 22 in Geneva.

Meanwhile, Yiannis Balafas, the Greek deputy interior minister, called for additional staff from the E.U. to assist Greece.

“(Migrants) will be returned after they have been swiftly processed. That is why we need the technical assistance,” he said, according to a local report.

Greece is unable to cope with the number of arrivals, and is struggling to provide food, shelter and basics while the migrants’ claims are being processed.

Those arriving in Greece are currently being held at E.U.-supervised registration centers known as “hotspots” under the new terms of the deal, which will require “compulsory supervision.”

Idomeni Tense as Border to Macedonia Remains Closed

Two refugees attempted self-immolation at a refugee camp in the Greek town of Idomeni bordering Macedonia.

Amid the E.U.-Turkey deal to return asylum seekers from Greece to Turkey, Macedonia has kept its border closed, creating a bottleneck on the Greek side, with more than 46,000 people stuck in different parts the country, according to local media reports.

The UNHCR has said that “10,000–12,000 people, including some 4,000 children, are camping in dire conditions at an informal site near the border, close to a railway track.”

Greek officials have been urging asylum seekers in Idomeni to move to official shelters, which will hold them until their claims are processed. Many will likely be returned to Turkey under the current deal.

But the thousands stranded at the border crossing are hoping to move on, farther into Europe, with a majority wishing to reach Germany to apply for asylum.

Given the overcrowded conditions and recent rains, hygiene and the risk of contagious disease have been serious concerns, say aid agencies.

U.N. Officials Urge No Backlash Following Brussels Attacks

Speaking from the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid & Development Conference, the U.N.’s regional refugee coordinator for Syria, Amin Awad, warned against “lumping together refugees” as a security threat following the deadly terror attacks at Brussels Airport on Tuesday.

The so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, which killed at least 34 people and wounded more than 150.

“Any sort of hostilities (toward refugees) because of the Brussels attack or Paris attack is misplaced,” said Awad to the Associated Press.

The conference will aim to garner additional funds, as UNHCR struggles to support refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq, especially those escaping the violence inflicted by ISIS on civilians in the region, according to the same report.

Recommended Reads

Top image: A young migrant sits in front of a police cordon during a protest demanding the opening of the border between Greece and Macedonia in the northern Greek border station of Idomeni, Tues., March 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

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