The 15th European Asylum Conference began on Chios, an Aegean island, where the delegates were “shocked to observe … the undignified and humiliating condition of refugees who are stuck there” in the Vial hotspot, as well as “concerned about the impact on local people”.
They were also “irritated by the apparent lack of clear responsibility between different actors, for example EASO, Frontex, Greek authorities, at the border in reception and in asylum procedures” which they believe has led to the creation of “a general state of non-accountability”.
“We can only conclude that Europe cannot continue with its asylum policy as-is,” remarked Dr Torsten Moritz, the new General Secretary of CCME. “As churches we want to see this reality of suffering and death replaced by one of solidarity, fellowship, and hope.”
While delegates felt that official stakeholders were less wholly committed to their roles, the visitors were “impressed to learn of the efforts by the Greek population, volunteers, local and international actors to support the women, men and children arriving in search of safety and a dignified life”.
Conference participants witnessed the EU/Turkey agreement in force, an approach that aims to keep asylum seekers on the Greek islands rather than moving them to less-cramped the mainland. Admissibility procedures attempt to send a majority of the newly-arrived back to Turkey. Participants were challenged with the the ongoing deaths in the Aegean Sea and other external borders of Europe as people travel to seek safety.
The conference was organised by the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) and Diakonie Deutschland.
At the close of the European Asylum Conference, the participants issued a declaration:
- An end to the hotspot approach both in its current form and as a blueprint for a future EU asylum regime.
- Immediate transfer of asylum seekers from the islands to the Greek mainland and an immediate improvement of the reception conditions on the islands as a shared responsibility of European and Greek authorities.
- An end to externalisation of EU asylum policy and instead establishment of a true Common European Asylum System based on high standards in reception and procedure, access to procedure and true sharing of responsibility between all parties.
- Establishment of ways of safe passage into Europe for protection and other reasons, e.g. family reunification or labour migration.
“Durable solutions regarding reception, asylum procedures and return policies need to be in conformity with the European acquis and Member States need to implement effectively the core fundamental principles of solidarity and burden sharing,” said the CCME Vice Moderator Efthalia Pappa.