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Executive Summary for March 28th

We review the latest developments on refugee issues, including a large fall in the daily number of boat arrivals in Greece, a largely peaceful protest at the Idomeni camp on the Greece-Macedonia border and an Easter message on the refugee crisis from Pope Francis.

Published on March 28, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Drop in Refugee Arrivals to Greece

The number of boats carrying refugees from Turkey to Greece has fallen sharply, the Financial Times reports, in the days following a controversial deal between the E.U. and Turkey.

Between March 20 and March 26, daily arrivals on the Aegean islands dropped from an average of 930 to 78, the Financial Times said. However, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) also reported a drop in arrivals by sea and land during the previous week.

“We’ve seen the numbers decline on previous occasions then spike again,” a spokesperson for Greece’s government migration policy coordination unit told the Financial Times. “This latest fall could be the effect of bad weather last week in the Aegean,” the spokesperson added.

The controversial E.U.–Turkey agreement began on March 20. Under the deal, Turkey must admit refugees planning to travel to Greece. For every refugee that the country receives, the E.U. will settle one refugee from a Turkish camp.

Last week, Greek police began to detain new arrivals under the deal. Aid agencies, NGOs including Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) responded by suspending their activities at Greek reception “hotspots”, calling the deal “unfair and inhumane.”

However, as the Washington Post reports, some refugees still planned to travel to Greece despite the new regulations. “We know there is a deal, but we don’t care. We will go, and they will take pity on us,” one Syrian refugee told the newspaper.

Protest Breaks Out at Idomeni Border Camp

Protesters from Afghanistan and Pakistan clashed with police at the Greek-Macedonian Idomeni border camp on Sunday, the Associated Press says. Iraqi and Syrian refugees are reported to have formed a barrier between the two groups.

About 400 protesters carried signs and banners saying “open the border,” according to Greek news platform Ekathimerini. The protest was largely peaceful, however.

Greece is pushing to create thousands of places in reception centers to encourage refugees to leave Idomeni camp. There are still an estimated 11,500 people stranded at Idomeni, the Guardian reports, after Macedonia closed its border, effectively shutting the Balkan route. Rumors spread among refugees on Sunday that the border would reopen, but they proved to be unfounded.

Two weeks ago, three people – including a pregnant woman – drowned when hundreds attempted to cross a surging river as an alternative route into the Balkan countries.

Pope Francis Denounces Hostility Toward Refugees

Pope Francis denounced hostility toward refugees in an Easter Sunday speech at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. According to the Guardian, the pope said that Easter “invites us not to forget those men and women seeking a better future, an ever more numerous throng of migrants and refugees – including many children – fleeing from war, hunger, poverty and social injustice.”

In the speech, he also voiced deep concerns over recent terrorist attacks in Belgium, Turkey, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire and Iraq.

Ahead of Good Friday, the pope washed the feet of refugees from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa during a visit to a center for asylum seekers near Rome, the Catholic News Service reports.

“All of us here, (coming) together – Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals – but (being) brothers, sons of the same God who want to live in peace,” he said.

Pope Francis has been a vocal advocate for refugees’ rights. Last September, as the Washington Post reported, he called on every religious community in Europe to take in one refugee family.

Recommended Reads

Top image: Pope Francis kisses the foot of a man during a foot-washing ritual at the Castelnuovo di Porto refugees center near Rome on Thursday, March 24, 2016. (L’Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

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