Athens (AFP) –
The arrival of thousands of Ukrainian refugees in Greece, welcomed “with open arms”, marks a “clear difference” with other asylum seekers, fleeing wars and misery, and reveals the double discourse of Greek migration policy.
Two days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi described Ukrainians as “real refugees”, angering human rights NGOs.
A fortnight later, the same Conservative minister announced that “Greece is with open arms to welcome displaced Ukrainians” and presented a series of “initiatives”, including a website to “help them find work”.
A language that contrasts with the dissuasive migration policy led by the conservative Greek government, anxious to “reduce migratory flows”, but also with the reception conditions for the 32,600 asylum seekers, mostly Afghans, housed in Greek camps.
“There is a clear separation between Ukrainian refugees and asylum seekers from other countries, who have been there for years or those who continue to arrive from Turkey,” explains Pépi Papadimitriou, head of education at the camp. of Ritsona, near Athens, where the majority of Afghans live. families live.
“Dozens of children in the camp have not been to school since they arrived in Greece three and a half years ago,” he told AFP.
Irene, a 39-year-old Ukrainian, is in a camp in Serres, in the north of the country, and says she is “impressed by the hospitality of the Greeks”.
“We have returned to normal life. The children go to school and already have friends,” this exile from Vinnytsia, who has been living there for two weeks with her two children, told AFP.
– Common European values of equality? –
But for the hundred or so Afghans in this camp, things are very different.
“When the Ukrainians started arriving, they told us to leave where we were living and took us to another area of the camp, to a very dirty container. Because?’ asks Shahran, 16, who arrived in Serres a year ago after two years in the ‘jungle’ of Moria, the unsanitary camp on the island of Lesbos destroyed by flames in 2020.
This policy “makes a mockery of so-called common European values of equality, the rule of law and human dignity”, criticizes Bill Frelick, director of the refugee law program at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
So far, more than 17,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Greece. Two camps have been reserved for them in Serres and another in Elefsina, near Athens, which “is being renovated to meet their needs”, according to Despina Baha, its director.
Unaccompanied minors of other origins who had been waiting for their papers there for years were transferred to “other structures before the arrival of the Ukrainians”, he explained to AFP.
For Stella Nanou, spokesperson in Athens for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “the solidarity shown by the EU towards Ukrainian refugees must serve as an example for all refugee crises”.
According to her, this is proof that the EU can “have an organized approach to asylum”.
The main gateway for exiles to Europe during the 2015 migration crisis, Greece has seen a drop in arrivals since the conservative government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in power for three years, came to power.
In January, the number of migrants in the camps fell by 49% in one year, due to this migration policy which limited aid to refugees, transformed the camps into “closed and controlled structures”, and reduced the number of NGOs that come to their aid. to help.
“While Greece welcomes Ukrainians as + real refugees +, it proceeds to cruel returns of Afghans and other people fleeing wars and other similar violence”, denounces Bill Frelick of HRW.
Athens, which opened an investigation at the request of the EU and the UNHCR, denies the allegations of illegal return of migrants, documented by various NGOs and the media.