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Executive Summary for October 23rd

We review the latest refugee-related issues, including aid groups asking the Greek prime minster to end containment of refugees on the Greek islands, Australia facing a huge bill and holdouts at Manus, and the U.N. calling for $434 million for the Rohingya crisis.

Published on Oct. 23, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Aid Groups Make Public Appeal to Greek P.M. to Open the Islands

Humanitarian groups have called on Greece to end the containment of asylum seekers on its Aegean islands. In an open letter to the Greek prime minister they denounced the “abysmal conditions.”

Greece is set for its third winter of chaos on the islands as new arrivals from Iraq and Syria add to the overcrowding and stretch the poor shelter available. The medical charity MSF has reported a mental health crisis, while there is local opposition to any more camps or shelters being constructed on the five islands affected.

Greece is meant to contain on its islands all asylum seekers who have arrived since the E.U.-Turkey deal in March 2016. In reality, thousands of new arrivals have been transferred to the mainland and another 2,000 will be moved imminently, while Athens is under pressure to defend the terms of the deal with Turkey that dramatically reduced flows across the Aegean.

“We urge you to put an end to the ongoing ‘containment policy’ of trapping asylum seekers on the islands,” said the letter to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, signed by aid groups Oxfam and the International Rescue Committee, as well as Human Rights Watch and Greek NGOs. “It is evident that the Greek authorities cannot meet the basic needs and protect the rights of asylum seekers while they remain on the islands.”

Since new arrivals started to climb above 4,000 per month, the policy of stealthily moving hundreds of people has been insufficient to stop a buildup of people at the islands’ poorly run hotspot facilities.

The letter pointed to Samos and Lesbos, where more than 8,300 people are living in facilities intended for just 3,000. Last winter thousands of refugees and migrants were left in unheated tents and at least five people died from conditions related to the cold.

Australia Faces Huge Bill and Holdouts Amid Bungled Closure of Manus

Nearly 800 asylum seekers are refusing to leave the Manus detention center. The prison on Papua New Guinea (PNG) is being closed down as Australia scrambles to find alternatives.

The closure of the Australian-operated and funded center is proving expensive and complicated. Australia plans to spend $195 million rehousing the asylum seekers on PNG, but many fear for their safety outside Manus.

Hopes that the U.S. would resettle the bulk of Manus inmates in a controversial refugee swap have not been realized. Only 54 asylum seekers have been transferred to the U.S.

The PNG Supreme Court ruled in April 2016 that the camp on Manus Island was unconstitutional and ordered it be closed. Australia is determined that none of the men in the male-only camp will be allowed to enter the country in order to defend its policy of preventing all sea crossings by asylum seekers.

A Kurdish-Iranian journalist held on Manus Island said detainees fear violence if they are moved to the new, Australian-funded Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre.

“Refugees either move to Lorengau, where they risk being attacked by angry local people, or be taken over by PNG defense forces who have already seriously threatened their safety,” Behrouz Boochani told Reuters.

U.N. Appeals for Nearly Half a Billion Dollars for Rohingya Crisis

The U.N. needs $434 million before February 2018 to manage the Rohingya refugee crisis. The appeal was set to be made at a conference in Geneva on October 23.

Despite international attention, only a quarter of the funding has so far been met to deal with the influx of people into Bangladesh fleeing a military crackdown in Myanmar. U.N. officials warned that needs were intensifying as 600,000 refugees have crossed from Myanmar since August this year.

“Let me be clear. Funding is a major constraint: We need more money to keep pace with the intensifying needs,” said Mark Lowcock, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “The international attention on the Rohingya has perhaps never been greater. So as we move beyond today’s events, we are counting on governments and partners to maintain momentum on all fronts.”

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