Older refugees stranded in Greece: HRW
Unnecessary delays and arbitrary barriers are stopping older refugees stranded in Greece from reuniting with families who have legal status in the European Union, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Family reunification often focuses on children but hundreds of older asylum seekers in Greece are waiting to reunite with adult family members granted residency elsewhere in the EU. Lack of clarity or explicit provisions governing the process means that they can be left in limbo for prolonged periods.
“These older people, already victims of conflict and persecution, hoped to find protection in the EU after treacherous journeys to Greece, and to be reunited with their family,” said Bethany Brown, older people’s rights specialist at HRW. “Now they don’t know if they will ever see their relatives again.”
The New York-based NGO said: “Under international human rights law, everyone has a right to family life. For refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, the possibility of family reunification is an aspect of that right, but barriers, including lack of information and clarity around eligibility for reunification, is causing anguish amongst older people.”
The barriers include a narrow interpretation of family under national law, misinformation and confusion about the process.
Many barriers are common to most migrants but they can have a more significant impact on older people. Older refugees suffer significantly higher rates of psychological distress and health issues, injuries and violence during displacement.
“Barriers include lack of information about family reunification procedures for older people. Many of those interviewed said they had no idea about the status of their application or how to obtain information about it. In some cases, Greek Asylum Service officials who met with them had told them not to apply for reunification,” HRW said.
Thousands of refugees on Greek islands are at risk of losing vital support as charities prepare to withdraw services as changes to EU funding are set to cancel contracts by the end of July.
Greece will take over funding and managing support services to the camps on July 31, but NGOs fear a “humanitarian gap” resulting from a poorly planned transition.
Echo, the European Commission’s humanitarian operation, has funded services including laundry, clothing distribution, maritime rescue and child protection.
But funding and selection of projects to be funded will soon become the sole responsibility of Greece.
“Reception facilities in the islands will be supported via the national programme,” announced a European Commission spokesperson. “Funding channelled through the national programme is not managed directly by the commission, but via the national authority responsible in Greece.”
A spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the process was “moving from emergency response to a sustainable system”.
“The Greek government will assume greater responsibilities and take over services which are presently provided by UNHCR and the broader humanitarian community,” the spokesman said. “UNHCR supports the government throughout this transition.”
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