Photo: Magnus Aronson/WCC

Photo: Magnus Aronson/WCC

A German delegation comprised of representatives of municipalities, church leaders and prominent civil society organizations recently visited the Greek island of Lesbos, already hosting tens of thousands of migrants and displaced people, and was on site when the news of the opening of the Turkish border was announced and the first new arrivals were appearing.

The delegation observed intolerable conditions for people in dire need in the camps: “People have to sleep in bitter cold. There is no hygiene. There is a lack of medical care, food, and the very basics for survival.” But these camps were set up in connection with the 2016 EU-Turkey agreement. “This humanitarian catastrophe is therefore political. Everything must be done to end the inhumane conditions in these camps immediately,” wrote the delegation in a message.

The delegation insisted that the EU-Turkey statement “cannot be a blueprint for the European asylum system,” and called for “a new start in European asylum policy, taking into account the interests of the Member States and those seeking protection equally. Safe and legal paths are needed for asylum seekers and for migrants. The reform plans with hotspots at the European external borders currently being discussed in the EU Commission and member states are completely unsuitable for this. Imprisoning people solely for their asylum application violates applicable European law. It is obvious that the existing camps do not relieve the external border states. On the contrary, spaces of lawlessness and misery are created.”

Recently, Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chairperson of the council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, said: “We want people to be able to live safely and with dignity.”

World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said: “The delegation affirmed, and I join in affirming, that our municipalities, our cities, our counties and parishes must remain places of refuge for all people who are entitled to help and protection.”

“Migrants are not missiles, they are people” says WCC general secretary in response to crisis at Greek-Turkish border - WCC press release 5 March, 2020