IFRC President Francesco Rocca and staff at work. Photo by: IFRC

BARCELONA — The president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Francesco Rocca, has urged the European Union to come up with a political solution to the Greece-Turkey border contention immediately, calling the conditions refugees and migrants are enduring “undignified.”

Last week, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, announced the country — which he believes is at capacity — would no longer stop undocumented people, including economic migrants and asylum-seekers, from leaving Turkey to enter Europe. Since then, thousands of people have arrived at the border with Greece, which has suspended asylum applications. Clashes, protests, and violence have since been reported while access to basic services for those gathered is limited.

“For me, this is not a dignified situation for the human beings involved,” Rocca said, speaking at a press conference in Kastanies on the Greece-Turkey border.

“Every country, every institution, like the EU, has the right to set policies but these policies must never affect the dignity of the human beings,” he added.

In 2016, Turkey and the EU struck a deal designed to see Turkey limit the flow of undocumented people arriving into Europe via Greece through amped-up security measures in exchange for €6 billion ($6.7 billion) through the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey and visa liberalization. The deal also meant that any Syrian arriving in Greece would be returned to Turkey in exchange for a Syrian who would be resettled into an EU member state — taking into account the United Nations’ vulnerability criteria.

Rocca called for the EU to spend the coming weeks considering a different approach that would put the needs of human beings, as well as their dignity, first. EU interior and foreign ministers have spent the past few days in emergency talks.

“Greece, Italy, and sometimes also Spain, have suffered this challenge too often alone. It is time to have concrete action coming from the EU. … The human beings stuck at the border are being used as a political weapon,” he said, adding that, although he disagreed with Turkey’s course of action, it was wrong to place blame on the country.

Instead, Rocca urged the international community to thank Turkey for housing 3.7 million refugees — the largest number of refugees worldwide — thus far.

“It's wrong to talk about Greece and Turkey. It's correct to talk about the EU and Turkey,” he said, explaining that a policy should emerge that demonstrates responsibility and solidarity from other EU countries.

IFRC staff at work. Photo by: IFRC

Earlier this week, the president of the EU Commission called Greece an “aspida,” meaning shield, against those migrating to Europe.

Rocca — who apologized during the conference for getting emotional after witnessing the conditions many women and children are experiencing at the border — said the use of the word “shield” could perpetuate xenophobia and violent behavior.

“Words have a weight when used by the institutions and it is our duty to protect our shared humanity," he said.

Rocca announced that IFRC would release 300,000 Swiss francs ($315,151) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to the Hellenic Red Cross to address the needs of those gathered at the border.

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  • Rebecca Root

    Rebecca Root is a Reporter and Editorial Associate at Devex producing news stories, video, and podcasts as well as partnership content. She has a background in finance, travel, and global development journalism and has written for a variety of publications while living and working in New York, London, and Barcelona.