We have made an “online interview” with the remarkable NGO from Greece, Solidarity Now. Ms. Eleni Takou, Senior Advocacy Officer of the Research, Policy, and Advocacy Department, and Valia Savvidou, Press Event Officier replied our questions. Mehmet Enes Beşer interviewed.
1- Can you introduce yourself (and your organization’s work)
Solidarity Now was established in 2013 with the support of Open Society Foundations (OSF/OSIFE), a grant-making organization founded by George Soros.
Solidarity Now consists of a network of people and organizations whose goal is to assist and support those most affected by the economic and humanitarian crises in Greece. Through the provision of services to both the local Greek and migrant populations, we seek to restore the vision of a strong Europe based on solidarity and open values.
Since 2013, Solidarity Now has supported a total of 73 different programs. Of these, 14.4 million euros have been allocated to 48 programs that provide support to the public in Greece, along with an additional 10 million euros allocated to 25 programs that specifically address the migrant and refugee crises. To implement these programs, SolidarityNow works with over 70 organizations, including civil society groups and public bodies.
(Ms. Eleni Takou, Senior Advocacy Officer of the Research, Policy, and Advocacy Department)
2- As you know, this week, Turkish Minister of FA said that the agreement would be canceled. Do you agree opinions like Turkey-Greece readmission agreement won’t operate in 2017? Was the deal useful to prevent illegal immigration in the Aegean Sea?
First of all, a readmission agreement between Greece and Turkey was in place since the early ’00s. The difference with the EU-Turkey deal is that it generalizes returns to Turkey, by lowering unprecedently the refugee protection standards and committing Turkey to accept the return of all asylum seekers who travelled through Turkey in exchange for billions of Euros in aid, visa liberalization for Turkish citizens, and revived negotiations for Turkish accession to the EU. In reality, the EU-Turkey agreement has set a dangerous precedent by putting at risk the very principle of the right to seek refuge.
At the same time, the migrant death toll for 2016 was the ‘highest ever recorded’, despite fewer people trying to cross sea than in 2015. However, all sides seem determined to keep the EU-Turkey deal running.
3- What are your priorities in your works? Do you think that humanitarian aids are adequate?
Solidarity Now’s priorities are summarized as follows:
- Human Rights and Social Justice
The underlying principle in all our work is the protection of rights on all levels, and for all people, with the goal of strengthening social cohesion.
- Protection of Vulnerable Groups
For everyone to feel and function as equal members of a cohesive society, access to and the exercise of basic rights for vulnerable and marginalized populations must be secured, which can only be achieved through a collective effort.
- Connecting Young People with Educational Programs and the Working Environment
High youth unemployment, coupled with the growing phenomenon of emigration of the specialized scientific workforce (i.e. “brain drain”), impedes efforts to uplift the country from economic recession. Therefore, strengthening the skills of young people, their connection with the modern working environment, and their participation in national and international activities, will help halt their exclusion from the labor market.
- Advocacy at the National and International Level
Expanding on the historic contribution of Open Society Foundations (OSF) in matters of advocacy, we continue to enlarge our presence in this field to better promote human rights and social inclusion.
We strive for our message to reach more recipients every day: Discrimination is not the answer to the crisis affecting us all.
Humanitarian aids are important but should be regarded as just the first step. What is most needed are measures for integration into the local societies.
4- Could you give some info about the conditions of refugees in Greece?
Reception conditions in Greece have been characterized as a humanitarian crisis. Over 62,000 persons of concern are residing in the State, most whom live in degrading and deplorable conditions, which has culminated in the death of several individuals. Sanitation at several sites is problematic and rodent infestation is increasing at sites in the North.
Amongst other problems, many facilities lack working toilets; several facilities are not equipped for people with specific needs, and many facilities lack running water. Additionally, toilets are not always located in a separated area for women or properly lighted at night. This presents a serious safety issue resulting in women and children being sexually assaulted and too afraid to utilize facilities during night hours. Harsh winter weather and freezing temperatures have worsened the living conditions across Greece.
5- What about the asylum application in Greece? Could refugees who want to stay in Greece get asylum easily?
The EU-Turkey deal resulted in a highly problematic accelerated border procedure and sets a formal policy of automatic detention in EU-mandated closed screening centers on the islands (known as “hotspots”). Due to slow asylum processing, overcrowding has become the primary feature of the hotspots. The huge backlog has resulted in a bottleneck of persons stuck on the islands, causing severe and dangerous overcapacity, that exacerbates already poor conditions.