Queen Rania meets refugees on Greek island of Lesbos

World Monday 25/April/2016 19:39 PM
By: Times News Service
Queen Rania meets refugees on Greek island of Lesbos

Lesbos (Greece)/London: Queen Rania of Jordan met refugees at a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos on Monday in a visit to highlight the plight of people she said had "seen unspeakable horror and experienced unthinkable tragedy".
Scores of refugees and migrants clapped and cheered as she walked through the Kara Tepe camp, taking photographs and giving her notes.
They are among more than a million people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa who have streamed into Europe since last year in the continent's biggest migration crisis since World War Two.
Jordan has accepted more than 630,000 Syrian refugees registered with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Most of them are living in poverty outside the refugee camps, according to human rights groups.
"It is impossible to really understand the magnitude of the crisis until you come face to face with it," Rania told journalists after speaking with refugee women in the camp.
"These people have gone from suffering to suffering and the one thing I keep hearing time and again is that if they had a choice they would be back in their homes; that this was a last resort."
More than 4,000 refugees and migrants are living on Lesbos, most of them behind the barbed wire fence of a disused military camp.
About 850 people, mostly families, live in Kara Tepe, a municipality-managed site from which 12 refugees were flown out by Pope Francis last week after he visited the island.
Rania had been invited by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), an aid agency which has installed showers, toilets, laundry facilities and lights at the site.
To stem the flow of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe from Turkey on rubber motor boats, the EU and Turkey signed an accord in March under which those who arrive in Greece from March 20 and do not qualify for asylum will be sent back.
At the latest count, some 8,000 refugees and migrants on Greece's islands could be returned to Turkey if their asylum applications are rejected.
The deal has been criticised by human rights groups and the UNHCR, which say Turkey is not a safe country for refugees and who question whether the deal is legal or moral.
"This is a crisis about human beings, not about borders and barriers. It is about human dignity, not about deals," Rania said.
Part of the US-led coalition that is bombing Syria, Jordan has long been praised for helping refugees and has been a big beneficiary of foreign aid as a result.
But it has also drawn criticism from Western allies and the UNHCR over the situation near its border with Syria, where thousands of refugees are being kept far from any aid.
Meanwhile, the medical relief charity Medecins sans Frontieres has relaunched rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, accusing European governments of failing to act to save migrants in peril at sea, it said on Monday.
MSF halted its maritime rescue programme in January, saying it hoped European Union member states would take up the task of search and rescue of migrants and refugees attempting the crossing from north Africa to Europe.
But with rising numbers of people trying to navigate the "deadly stretch of water" between Libya and Italy as the weather warms, migrants were in danger of drowning, MSF said.
"The absence of a global solution to the current refugee crisis, and the European states' policies of deterrence, as well their refusal to provide alternatives to the deadly sea crossing, continue to kill thousands," said Joanne Liu, president of MSF International in a statement.
The voyage by boat from Libya is far longer and associated with much higher death rates than between Turkey and Greece, though Libya's lack of functioning government and lawlessness make it easy for people traffickers to operate with impunity.
More than 1,200 people have died so far this year trying to reach Europe by sea, more than half of them on the central Mediterranean route, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday.
Last year the IOM said 3,771 people died while trying to reach Europe by sea, making the year the deadliest on record for those seeking sanctuary from conflict and poverty.
MSF said its ship Dignity 1, with a capacity to take 400 people, was involved in its first operation on Saturday, transferring 308 people to Italy, of whom 23 were children.
The charity said most of the people on board were Eritrean.
MSF teams have the skills and equipment to provide lifesaving emergency care as well as to treat common ailments including dehydration, fuel burns, hypothermia and skin diseases, the charity said.
MSF previously halted its sea rescue operations in January, with its head of migration operations saying that search and rescue was not the charity's primary function.
It said its three ships rescued more than 20,000 people in over 120 search and rescue operations during eight months at sea in 2015.