Médicins Sans Frontières is latest to halt work at camp in Lesbos, saying it does not want to be complicit in a “mass expulsion operation” as newcomers are sent to Turkey
Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced on Wednesday it had suspended aid activities at a refugee centre on the Greek island of Lesbos to avoid complicity in what it described as an “unfair and inhumane” EU deal to send newcomers back to Turkey.
The move came a day after the UN refugee agency UNHCR said it had suspended some activities in Greece, saying reception centres had become “detention facilities”.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC), operating in Lesbos, and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) swiftly joined MSF and the UNHCR in voicing concerns and scaling back activities.
Migrants arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos on Monday
“We took the extremely difficult decision to end our activities in Moria (on Lesbos) because continuing to work inside would make us complicit in a system we consider to be both unfair and inhumane,” said Marie Elisabeth Ingres, MSF’s head of mission in Greece.
The aid agencies spoke out after a deal struck last week between EU states and Turkey to force migrants and asylum seekers to return from Greek islands to Turkey.
“We will not allow our assistance to be instrumentalised for a mass expulsion operation and we refuse to be part of a system that has no regard for the humanitarian or protection needs of asylum seekers and migrants,” said Ms Ingres.
She said MSF had closed “all activities” linked to its operation at the Moria camp on Lesbos, including transportation of refugees to sanitation and medical facilities.
Rafts and boats continue to make the journey from Turkey to Lesbos each day as thousands flee conflict in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other countries. Over 500,000 migrants have entered Europe so far this year and approximately four-fifths of those have paid to be smuggled by sea to Greece from Turkey, the main transit route into the EU. Most of those entering Greece on a boat from Turkey are from the war zones of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
A sign directs migrants by nationality at the Moria processing centre on the island of Lesbos Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images
MSF said it would continue to run its transit centre in Mantamados some 20 miles further north, where new arrivals receive first assistance, as well as sea rescue activities.
“MSF will also continue to run mobile clinics on the island of Lesbos for those outside of the hotspot location,” the group said.
The EU and Ankara struck a deal last Friday aiming to cut off the perilous sea crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands which some 850,000 people used last year as a route to flee the war in Syria.
The agreement went into effect on Sunday.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said this week it would not be party to the deal nor be involved in returns or detention, saying that Greece lacked the capacity on the islands to assess asylum claims or nor the proper conditions to accommodate people and safely.
Separately the Norwegian Refugee Council said it was suspending “a number of activities” at the Vial centre on the island of Chios.