Swiss NGOs insist government must do more for refugees in Greece

Refugees look out of an airplane window before it leaves Athens for Germany on October 16, 2020. They were among a group of 101 refugees living at the Moria migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos who were taken in by Germany. Keystone / Yannis Kolesidis

Over 130 humanitarian groups, including Amnesty Switzerland, have repeated demands for the Swiss government to take in vulnerable refugees stranded in camps in Greece. The Swiss authorities maintain their position.

This content was published on March 29, 2021 - 15:38

“The situation for refugees in Greece remains dire,” wrote the “Evacuate Now” campaigners in a statementExternal link published on Monday.

They urge Switzerland and other European states to help with the complete evacuation of the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos and the “rapid reception” of a large contingent of refugees from Lesbos and other Greek islands.

Last April the groups wrote a letter to the Swiss government, signed by 50,000 people, making similar demands.

After devastating fires ravaged the Moria camp in September, eight Swiss cities, including Bern, Zurich and Lucerne, said they were prepared to take in people from the camp. Other towns and municipalities have since made similar offers.

Following the inferno, Switzerland reacted by sending emergency humanitarian materials to Lesbos, including tents, water treatment supplies and medicines. Last year it also took in 97 unaccompanied minors who were stranded on the Aegean islands.

But the campaigners said on Monday that the Swiss reaction remains “largely insufficient”. They claim the government, Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter and the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) have largely ignored the offers from cities and municipalities.

‘Not timely’

SEM, meanwhile, maintains its position. It insists that jurisdiction in matters of asylum lies strictly with the federal government, not the cities.

“If cities want to welcome more refugees from crisis zones, that’s a welcome and positive signal,” it told the Keystone-SDA News Agency on Monday. But taking in migrants from an EU state as part of an ad hoc operation is “not timely”.

The government’s priority remains “helping people on the spot”, it said, adding that the Swiss parliament supported this approach.

SEM said Switzerland is one of the few European countries to have kept its promises to welcome asylum seekers from Greece. It added that the situation had “improved considerably” on Lesbos and other Greek islands in recent months. The number of migrants has fallen from 40,000 at the start of 2020 to 15,000 today, camps are safe, not overpopulated, and hygiene conditions are better, it said.

This is disputed by Amnesty, which says the fires that gutted the Moria refugee camp left 12,000 people homeless. An emergency site was set up with a capacity for 3,500 people but 6,900 are currently living there, it said.

“The new camp is installed on a former military firing range. As the Greek government has conceded, the soil is contaminated with lead, in some places it massively exceeds the legal limit and could present considerable health risks for the people who live there,” said Pablo Cruchon, migration campaign manager at Amnesty Switzerland.

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