EU leaders only had time for a short consideration of the refugee crisis in Greece, in the context of the controversial EU-Turkey migrant deal, under which "irregular migrants " — those refused asylum — are returned to Turkey. After the meeting, the leaders said, simply, they "reiterated their commitment to a full implementation of EU-Turkey Statement on migration".
"We are deeply disappointed and very concerned that — despite the fact that over 16,000 men, women and children are living in appalling conditions on the Greek islands — EU leaders did not consider that serious enough to merit attention at the Council," Iverna McGowan, Director of Amnesty International's European Institutions Office told Sputnik.
Amnesty says that, despite having a right to family reunification under EU law, some refugees are unable to reunite with family members in other EU countries. The European Commission is proposing they should be returned to Turkey and seek family reunification from there.
"What's more, in a week when reports are coming in about Syrian people — including children — being massacred in their homes, there was no reflection on that and that part of the EU-Turkey deal involves returning Syrians to Turkey," McGowan told Sputnik.
"At this stage, horrendous crimes are being committed, Syrian civilians urgently need support. They don't need doors closing or to be sent back. That overall combination is deeply worrying indeed."
The news comes a week after the Commission announced that member states could begin relocating migrants back to Greece — whence many of them originated after crossing the Mediterranean or the West Balkans — in order to reassert common immigration policy which was thrown into chaos by the mass movement of migrants which overwhelmed the Athens authorities.
EU Credibility as Risk
The move is seen as putting pressure on Greece to process migrants arriving on its shores — in line with the Dublin rules, which say all arrivals must be processed in the country of arrival — and stem the flow of asylum seekers moving northwards through Europe.
"The commission's proposal to restart returns to Greece is not only deeply hypocritical, it's also ridiculous. Anybody who has recently been to the Greek islands would see that's completely untenable. It's hypocritical in the fact that — although the Greek Government does have some peer responsibility for providing basic housing etc. — the broader problem has been caused by the bigger EU member states' policy towards migration.
"Namely, the EU-Turkey agreement that has left thousands stranded on the islands and the fact that other states have closed their borders and are refusing to chow solidarity by spreading asylum seekers more equally and more rapidly across the European Union. So it's very hypocritical to try and blame Greece for the entire situation when — clearly — this is an EU issue," she told Sputnik.
Asked whether the European Council President Donald Tusk had his priorities right after telling reporters after the December 15 summit that an EU-Turkey summit would be organized "in the next months, McGowan said: "The situation has already proved fatal for some people. Refugees have lost their lives. The images of people living in squalid conditions and vulnerable groups continue to be transmitted across the world."
"So it beggars belief, at this stage. At what point will they realize that they have made a mistake in policy and this needs a drastic u-turn if not only for the dignity and rights of the refugees and asylum seekers, but also for the EU's credibility."