As we began the new year in Greece, so too did we mark Action for Education’s second birthday. Yet we did so at a time when conditions on the islands have grown worse than ever before.
Since August 2018, the population of asylum seekers on the islands has more doubled, from 20,000 to over 42,000. Yet apart from the promise to build yet more camps, there has been no direct response by EU or Greek governments to ensure timely asylum procedures and humane reception conditions.
In February, with the bitterness of winter still keenly felt in the camps, widespread violence spread across the islands. Turkey announced a temporary opening of its borders to Europe, the Greek government placed a ban on new asylum applications and island populations took to the streets when the Greek prime-minister announced the construction of new hotspot camps.
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This led to a series of attacks on police forces, NGO buildings and humanitarian aid workers and saw the temporary closure of NGO centres (including our own). Just two weeks later, all centres were closed once again as a preventative measure related to COVID-19. The culmination of these political, humanitarian and health crises has created a perfect storm, depriving asylum seekers of their most fundamental rights and civil society of the ability to monitor human rights concerns in the camp.
Yet amidst these challenges, we have taken great steps. Aside from our existing projects, we have renovated a new centre on Chios that stands ready to welcome hundreds of new teenagers and young adults, and we have launched a European-wide campaign, Europe Must Act, calling for an end to this geopolitical stalemate.
In the following pages of our first 2020 Quarterly Report, we explore, examine and reflect upon social and organisational developments in light of a series of unsettling and unforeseen circumstances.