International aid organisation Doctors Without Borders said Wednesday it had suspended its activities at a refugee ‘hotspot’ on the Greek island of Lesbos, citing “unfair and inhumane” conditions.
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”.
“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, the head of the medical organisation’s mission in Greece.
The group, known by its French acronym MSF, said its decision followed 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 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.
MSF, which has been working at Moria since July, said it would continue to run its transit centre in Mantamados some 30 kilometres (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 on Friday aiming to cut off the sea crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands that enabled 850,000 people to pour into Europe last year, many of them fleeing the brutal war in Syria.
The agreement went into effect early Sunday.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said Tuesday it would not be party to the deal nor be involved in returns or detention, noting Greece “does not have sufficient capacity on the islands for assessing asylum claims, nor the proper conditions to accommodate people decently and safely pending an examination of their cases.”
The UN agency said 934 refugees and migrants had landed on Lesbos alone since the accord took effect, stretching aid organisations to the limit.