Greece: labor minister criticized for 'racist' refugees move

Newly-appointed official revokes National Health Insurance law

17 July, 16:19

    (ANSAmed) - Athens, July 17 - Greece's newly-appointed Labor Minister Yiannis Vroutsis has been labelled "heartless and inhumane" after he revoked a recent law passed by the previous Syriza-lead leftist government which granted National Health Care services to all foreigners from non-EU countries, refugees included, without exceptions.

    Just three days into his new role Vroutsis revoked the circular, which had been voted on and published on June 20.

    It provided additional guidelines that AMKA numbers (Greece's national insurance program) could be given to foreign nationals of third world countries, and meant that refugees would be treated the same as those residing in the country, as the Constitution states.

    And anti-fascist organisation KEERFA (The Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat) did not hold back in their criticism.

    "This is is a racist, heartless and inhuman measure against expelled people arriving in Greece trying to avoid death," said KEERFA in a strongly-worded media statement. "This inhumanity is particularly directed against the rights of poor people, women and refugees, and disabled people, since this move deprives them of unhindered access to public hospitals, schools, and public services." KEERFA added: "With this step, the New Democracy government is attacking the solidarity movement for refugees and migrants who have been embraced by the overwhelming majority of people in Greece from 2015 onwards. It is an attack against the unions of teachers, hospitals, workers in municipalities, and services who have played a leading role in the fight against the racist fortress-Europe policies, the shameful EU-Turkey agreement, the abolition of the right to asylum, and the concentration camps for refugees." "We call for the immediate withdrawal of this racist move and re-establish free access to all for hospitals, schools, and services, without exceptions." Vroutsis announced the decision via his Twitter account, stating that the previous decision made by Alexis Tsipras' center-left government was "perforated and contrary to law", and also commented: "Our country is not an unfenced vineyard!" Vroutsis is no stranger to controversy. He was heavily criticised for his previous spell as Labor Minister when Greece's unemployment rate skyrocketed to 28%, and it remains to be seen how this latest move will develop.

    As well as resistance from anti-facist and anti-racism groups, NGOs and human rights organisations have also voiced their anger.

    Greece's refugee issue a lingering problem The ongoing refugee crisis is proving to remain a huge thorn in Greece's side.

    The country has been welcoming huge influxes of refugees since the outbreak of the crisis in 2015, and it is still struggling to cope with the thousands of asylum seekers which are staying in camps all over the country, with many subjected to terrible living conditions at the likes of Moria on Lesvos, as well as on Chios and Samos.

    And there is little sign of a let-up.Overall, it is estimated that Greece's population of asylum seekers will surpass the 90,000 mark by the end of 2019 at current rates.

    With its current systems and infrastructure, Greece's outgoing Migration Policy Minister Dimitris Vitsas, recently conceded last month that the country only has the capacity to process only 20,000 asylum applications every year, whereas the number of applications received in 2018 were a massive 67,000.

    Over the weekend, Greece's newly-appointed Citizens' Protection Minister, Michalis Chrysochoidis, spent time inspecting the notorious Moria refugee reception and identification center (RIC) on the North East Aegean island of Lesvos.

    Chrysochoidis, who took on the post on July 9 after New Democracy won the recent national elections, was briefed by facility director Yiannis Balbakakis about the latest conditions at the refugee hotspot, which currently hosts over 6,000 asylum-seekers in a space meant for only half that figure.

    The previous Greek government has come under constant pressure for it's so-called "containment policy" in the Aegean region, crowing far too many asylum seekers into the cramped camps on Lesvos, Chios and Samos. And it seems that this is set to continue under New Democracy.

    (Greek Labour Minister Ioannis Vroutsis. Photo: EPA/SIMELA PANTZARTZI)

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