by Aggelos Skordas
More than a dozen refugees, mainly Syrians, stranded in Greece for months or even years have pitched tents opposite the Parliament building in Athens Syntagma Square, demanding the acceleration of the process that would allow them to rejoin their families in other European countries. Among those protesting are 14 men and women who launched a hunger strike on Thursday in order to achieve their goal. Some say they have been waiting for more than two years to be allowed to leave Greece and move to other European countries, like Belgium and Germany, where their relatives reside. Holding banners with phrases such as “our family ties are stronger than your illegal agreements”, the protesting refugees clarify that they have neither reason nor intention to remain in Greece while all they want is to continue their journey to Central and Northern Europe where their loved ones have already arrived.
As the refugees say in a statement, “the Greek and German governments have to respect the legal limit of six months for family reunification from the date the application is accepted”. Early on Thursday a press conference was held during which they stressed: “We believe that dogs have better treatment than refugees in Greece. We will not leave Syntagma Square and whatever might happen from now on the government and the ministry will be held responsible. This behaviour towards the refugees favours traffickers, as we are forced to borrow money in order to pay them and leave.”
On his behalf, Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas told reporters that family reunifications from Greece to other European Union member states show an increase of about 27 percent this year compared with last year, “even though we are accused of cutting back family reunification and doing deals to cut back family reunification”, he characteristically said, denying an alleged secret bilateral agreement. Moreover, Mouzalas also denied accusations that refugees from conflict zones, such as Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, were being forced to pay for their reunification flights and underlined that Athens has received assurances from Berlin that all successful applications would be processed as soon as possible.
It should be noted that some 60,000 refugees and migrants have become stranded in Greece after border closures in the so called “Balkan route”. In 2015 more than one million refugees crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, while this year the arrivals have dropped to less than 150,000. The majority of the newcomers are women and children according to data published by the United Nations.