World, Europe

European Commissioner praises EU-Turkey refugee deal

During visit to Greek refugee camp Dimitris Avramopoulos says islands need to be prepared for winter conditions

European Commissioner praises EU-Turkey refugee deal EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos speaks to media after his visit to refugee camps in Lesbos, Greece on January 18, 2017. ( Ayhan Mehmet - Anadolu Agency )

By Idyli Tsakiri

LESBOS, Greece 

The European Commission’s top migration official on Wednesday described the EU-Turkish refugee deal signed in March 2016 as a move which “allowed us to put a stop to the tragic loss of life at sea”.

Dimitris Avramopoulos made the comment during a visit to refugee camps on the Greek island of Lesbos.

The visit was prompted by recent extreme winter weather and complaints that people were sleeping in tents unfit for the cold conditions.

During the first days of 2017, hundreds of refugees and migrants in Moria camp, Lesbos, had to endure freezing temperatures and snow in summer tents provided by the UNHCR.

Accompanied by Greek Migration Minister Giannis Mouzalas, Avramopoulos said the camps needed to be readied for winter.

“The refugees cannot be left out in the cold to brave the worst of winter without a roof over their heads,” he told reporters, adding he was “confident that space will be found for winterized UNHCR tents, financed by the EU, to be set up as a temporary humanitarian action”.

Referring to the EU-Turkish deal signed in March 2016, the Commissioner said it had “allowed us to put a stop to the tragic loss of life at sea”.

However “managing the biggest refugee crisis that Europe has ever seen remains a collective European responsibility,” he added.

According to Avramopoulos, Greece is the biggest recipient of EU Home Affairs funding, having received over a billion euros ($1.06 billion) in the past two years.

Official government numbers show Lesbos is the most overcrowded island, with more than 6,000 refugees and migrants stranded there, the island only has the capacity to host around 3,500.

“We will continue to stand side by side with the UN to decongest the islands; transferring the vulnerable people to the mainland, returning people who don't have a right to asylum and speeding up the processing of claims to return people back to Turkey who can receive protection there,” Avramopoulos added.

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