Greece going backwards on refugee issues , says SYRIZA

Opposition party lament government's policies

30 giugno, 14:16

(ANSAmed) - ROMA, 30 GIU - STILE INFOMIGRANTS, THANKS (ANSAmed) - ATHENS, 26 JUN - Greece's government came in for a fresh wave of criticism on Friday for its handling of the refugee crisis in the country, this time from opposition party SYRIZA, with the leftist-center party claiming things have gone backwards under the New Democracy regime.

In a press conference given by SYRIZA's Department of Civil Rights, the party voiced its views on the recent policies implemented since Kyriakos Mitsotakis' government came to power last summer, focusing on housing, social inclusion and the access for refugees to health and education.

The government's ongoing struggles with massively overcrowded camps on the Aegean islands, slow transfers to the mainland and tougher regulations which limit the rights of refugees have already come in for criticism.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), several NGOs and human rights groups have also spoken out in recent weeks about the government's decision to cut spending on a housing program for asylum seekers by up to 30%, saying that it means less safe places to live for vulnerable groups.

Additionally, many NGOs, human rights groups, adn media observers have added to the chorus of disapproval of the Greek state's policies concerning migrants during the pandemic, claiming that the government is taking advantage of the situation to continue its so-called policy of "containment" regarding refugees and migrants.

And on Friday there were some harsh words from SYRIZA on the government's efforts.

"When we were in power, we put in a lot of effort in comparison with other countries, not focusing on closed reception centers that are reminiscent of concentration camps, but in actual 'homes' and accommodation where people can enjoy their civil rights," said the former Minister of Migration Policy, Dimitris Vitsas.

He added: "Over 12,500 refugee children were integrated into school programs. Everyone had access to health services. We took part in actively working with local municipality governments and the associations of refugees and migrants." Already there have been shameful scenes in Athens this week with refugees sleeping rough on several city squares as the government proceeded with closing 60 of the current 93 hospitality facilities created in hotels for asylum seekers on the mainland.

The former Secretary General of Migration Policy Miltiadis Klapas expressed his regret for the abandonment of the National Strategy for Integration (NSI), a plan for holistic and inclusive integration.

He said: "Unfortunately, the current leadership of the [migration] ministry did not believe in the iconic Helios program, which was implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) under the full control of the ministry. It has lost time and now it is trying to patch that mistake up." Klapas called for a speeding up of the project, increasing its budget and staff, as well as utilizing the tourist accommodation units that will remain closed due to Covid-19.

"SYRIZA used a lot of diplomatic and political capital to try to ruen around the doctrine 'Greece - shield of Europe', which is now being restored by the ND government," he said. "And this is the kind of medieval logic that considers refugees and migrants to be its enemies, and turns a European issue into a purely Greek-Turkish one, allowing Turkey to use it as another weapon, along with its other aspirations." Former Immigration Policy Minister Giannis Mouzalas added: "This type of policy condemns the Greek people to a fate whereby they are constantly exposed to attempts by Ergodan to use refugees, and to be a warehouse of souls to a much greater extent." CANCELED PROGRAMS MP Giota Poulou, the former mayor of Livadia, one of the first municipalities on the mainland to implement the popular and effective 'ESTIA' program, noted that the distribution of refugees in municipalities is the only way forward. She said that the revamped conditions of the 'ESTIA 2' program sets conditions that make it difficult for municipalities.

"The ineffective and anti-democratic policy of the ND government means that migrants are pushed to closed detention centers, devaluing a program that was based on the balance between refugees and local communities," she said.

To make matters worse, the former Deputy Minister of Labor, Kostas Barkas, also added that the Ministry of Labor is canceling programs such as the access of refugees and immigrants to OAED, or unemployment benefits. "SYRIZA did not follow the logic of secret funds like the current government," he said.

For its part, the current ministry has said that all refugees leaving state facilities have the right to apply to the Helios program, for subsidized rent and help with job-seeking.

Still, the government's bid to move thousands of refugees out of those state facilities and subsidized accommodation to make room for new asylum seekers is suffering delays as many migrants are refusing to move out.

Under a new law, the state reduced the grace period given to refugees who have secured asylum and had their benefits stopped, to leave state accommodation from six months to just one month.

Under this regulation, up to 9,000 migrants must leave the state reception system by the end of June. Of that total, approximately 4,000 people are living in European Union-funded apartments and the rest are staying in subsidized hotels or camps. A further 11,000 are supposed to leave in the coming months(ANSAMed). (ANSA).

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