Letter in English

[Sedat Suna (EPA), Turkey — Greece bordar, 1st de march, 2020]

LETTER FROM THE PORTUGUESE HUMANITARIAN VOLUNTEERS TO THE PORTUGUESE GOVERNMENT ABOUT THE GREEK HUMANITARIAN EMERGENCY


PRELIMINARY NOTE

Due to the alarming situation and inhuman conditions in Greece, focusing particular attention on the Moria refugee camp, we are writing the following letter to the Portuguese Government. 


— Being aware of our responsibility - strengthened by the fact that we have witnessed this humanitarian crisis from the front line, and emboldened by the deterioration of the current response, this letter is signed by the Portuguese volunteers who have been directly involved in the crisis.

— Being aware of the complexity of the problem, the content of this letter was written with a constructive purpose, so that we can look to the future.

— Being aware of the urgency of finding an integrated solution in which each one of us must take part, the present letter intends to bring us together.

— Being aware of the necessity for an articulated reaction in future, this letter is intended to be an invitation for the mobilization of civic society organizations for a structured reinforcement of the Portuguese refugees’ hosting system.

— Being aware of the crucial role of the Portuguese state in the implementation of the Portuguese hosting policy, this letter is an appeal for immediate action.   

— Being aware of the fact that we share the same humanity as the thousands of people that seek refuge in Europe, this letter makes the case that every Portuguese citizen shall be involved with a problem and a solution that  everyone must be part of.

[An asylum seekers family with a portuguese volunteer — Greece, February, 2018 ]
Dear Prime Minister António Costa,
Dear Minister of Internal Administration Eduardo Cabrita,
Dear Minister of State and Presidency Mariana Vieira da Silva,
Dear Secretary of State for Integration and Migration Cláudia Pereira,

The humanitarian volunteers, being Portuguese citizens, sign the present letter in order to alert the Portuguese Government to the humanitarian emergency which is a consequence of the alarming and inhuman situation that is happening in the Moria Refugee Camp, on the island of Lesbos, Greece. We appeal for an immediate decision that is coherent with Portuguese hosting policy and the integration of refugees.    

The Moria Camp, which has the capacity to shelter 3,100 asylum seekers, currently hosts more than 20 000 people, of which half are families and 1,049 are unaccompanied minors.

The conditions and resources of a camp, which was originally built for 3,100 people, are described both by the non-governmental organizations currently in the field and by the residents of the camp as insufficient and non-existent. There is a lack of clean water, the sanitary conditions are very poor and healthcare is scarce. From the testimonies of the Portuguese volunteers, we highlight:

There is one bathroom for each 300 people.
— The residents wait approximately 3 hours for each meal.
— In the last two months, 5 people died (one 19 months old baby due to dehydration, two women in a fire inside the containers where they lived, 1 baby who was run over while playing and one unaccompanied minor who was stabbed).
—20 children mutilated themselves and 2 attempted suicide.

This situation is similar to that occurring on the Greek island of Samos, where, in a space with capacity for 650 asylum seekers, more than 7000 people live.

In February just past, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was alerted to the precarious conditions of the asylum seekers and migrants living in Greece and appealed for the emergency evacuation of migrants from the Greek islands.

The situation has escalated in recent days, when Turkey, which shelters more than three million refugees, opened its borders. We are now witnessing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis on the Greek borders. There are more than 13,000 people waiting in an attempt to enter an overcrowded country that is unable to deal with the exponential increase of new people by itself.

We are now experiencing the aggravated result of five years of inertia regarding a concerted and sustainable European policy which corresponds to the scale of the situation. A response that lives up to the values that are claimed to be the foundations of the European Union is urgent.

The complex challenge that Greece is currently facing is a European challenge, and consequently, a Portuguese challenge. Solidarity among the member states is now more crucial than ever: it is urgent to share the responsibility of sheltering people who need protection. 

We believe that Portugal must be part of the solution. In recent years, our country has taken a position that is coherent with the principle of respect for the dignity of each human person. Now is the time to remember the path of hospitality we have been walking, as proof that it is possible, once again, to contribute to solving this humanitarian problem.

The Portuguese Government has acknowledged its responsibility to participate actively and constructively in the European effort to welcome refugees, supporting the European Commission in the construction of a common European asylum policy, based on the principles of responsibility and solidarity, and on respect for human dignity as well as in combating human trafficking.

Under the European Union's Relocation Program, Portugal welcomed 1,552 refugees from Greece and Italy between December 2015 and March 2018. Thus, it was the 6th most welcoming country in the European Union in resettling refugees under this program.

Furthermore, Portugal has responded to emergency situations regarding rescues in the Mediterranean Sea by humanitarian vessels. In this context, 106 people arrived in Portugal.

When assuming the resettlement and integration of refugees, as well as combating their vulnerabilities, as a priority of its policy, the Portuguese Government assumed the following commitments:

— Under the UNHCR Voluntary Resettlement Program, Portugal has committed to resettling 1,010 refugees that are in Turkey and Egypt. So far, since 2018, 186 refugees have arrived in our country from Turkey, and 220 from Egypt.

— In 2019, Portugal signed a bilateral agreement with Greece, offering to receive 1,000 people who are in refugee camps in Greece. This agreement has not yet been honored.

Given the current state of the calamity in Greece, especially on the island of Lesbos in the Moria refugee camp, it is urgent to reaffirm the practical policy of welcoming and integrating refugees into Portugal.

It is urgent that the Portuguese Government enforce the Bilateral Agreement with the Greek State, that has been concluded but not executed, giving top priority to the most vulnerable people who are in the Moria refugee camp.

All of the signees to this letter are appealing to the Portuguese Government to accept at least 1000 people presently living at the Moria camp, assuming its policy and responsibility based on the values of solidarity and absolute respect for the dignity of each human being, and in compliance with the bilateral agreement referred to. 
The reception of these people into Portugal necessitates a well thought out and integrated solution which looks to the future. We are therefore appealing to the Portuguese government to proceed with a structured dialogue with the relevant social and civic entities as well as all the local municipalities who, since 2015 have given a humane response which must now be strengthened and stepped up.  
 The situation demands the immediate activation of the necessary processes for the urgent transfer and dignified reception of these people into Portugal.  

And since we are speaking of shared responsibility to the government that represents us, each of us also states our commitment to do our part, here and now, in finding an integrated solution to this challenge.

Still, it is neither the end

Nor the beginning of the world

Stay calm

It is just a little bit too late

Manuel António Pina