Congressional Hellenic Caucus Co-Chairs Lead Letter to DHS Secretary Urging Assistance for Greece in European Refugee Crisis

WASHINGTON — Hellenic Caucus Co-Chairs Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) released the following joint statement regarding the Caucus letter sent to the Department of Homeland Security:

“On the heels of our inaugural Stand with Greece Policy Summit, the Hellenic Caucus immediately sprang into action implementing an important policy initiative by engaging with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As a point of entry for over 500,000 refugees fleeing unspeakable conditions in the Middle East, Greece’s border security apparatus has nearly reached a breaking point. As such, we believe DHS officials can share meaningful technical assistance and efficient intake procedures that will help Greece manage the unprecedented influx of refugees.  We remain hopeful that a transformative system of border processing can be effectuated with Greek border patrol agencies working collaboratively with DHS. We commend our colleagues for this first step, and look forward to implementing additional strategic initiatives that will help further Greece’s recovery efforts.“

“The letter calls for the Department of Homeland Security to provide technical guidance and assistance to Greek immigration officials to improve the processing of new arrivals coming through the Greek Islands. The letter states, “While the European Union continues to develop and enforce a common migration and asylum policy, we believe that DHS can assist in educating and sharing best practice policies with our ally on the frontline of this continent-wide epidemic. The need for improvements to fingerprinting, migrant tracking, and other intake protocols in Greece is evident and urgent. DHS’s expertise in border control and management can assist Greece in accelerating the speed and efficiency of implementing sound procedures with little cost to our own resources.”

 BACKGROUND

Since the beginning of 2015, more than 700,000 refugees, largely from Syria and other parts of the Middle East and North Africa, have fled to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. This volume of refugees is unprecedented in the post-World War II era, and thousands have lost their lives making the journey. The vast majority of arrivals are entering the continent through Greece en route to other European countries. European Union leaders are currently devising a cohesive policy to address the crisis.

The full text of the letter, which was signed by Reps. Maloney, Bilirakis, Sarbanes, Sires, Titus, Lewis, Meng, Van Hollen, Tsongas, Deutch, Kelly, Watson Coleman, Donovan, Diaz-Balart, Cardenas, Schakowsky, Quigley, Lynch, Larson, Israel, Crowley, Dold, Smith McGovern, Ryan, Zeldin, Pascrell, Bustos, Maloney (Sean Patrick), Cicilline, Keating, and Pallone is below:

Dear Secretary Johnson:

We are deeply concerned about the influx of refugees from Syria and elsewhere to Greece. As you know, Europe is currently experiencing its most challenging migration and refugee crisis since World War II, with many entering the continent by way of Greece’s island coastline. The Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues asks that DHS explore ways that we can draw from our own experience with border and migration challenges, and help our Eastern Mediterranean ally manage and monitor the daily entry of refugees.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that over 680,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean into Europe so far in 2015, up from nearly 219,000 in all of 2014, with Syrians the largest group by nationality. Nearly 80% of these refugees are arriving to Greece. Refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern and African countries are also crossing over land through Turkey’s porous borders. Migrants and refugees are increasingly attempting to enter Greece and then enter countries that belong to the Schengen Agreement, which allows individuals to travel without passport checks among 26 participating European Union states. The Greek islands of Lesbos and Kos are common landing spots for Syrian refugees on boats from Turkey, creating an overwhelming humanitarian challenge for the country at the same time it is handling a major debt crisis.

While the European Union continues to develop and enforce a common migration and asylum policy, we believe that DHS can assist in educating and sharing best practice policies with our ally on the frontline of this continent-wide epidemic. The need for improvements to fingerprinting, migrant tracking, and other intake protocols in Greece is evident and urgent. DHS’s expertise in border control and management can assist Greece in accelerating the speed and efficiency of implementing sound procedures with little cost to our own resources.

We in the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues seek to start productive and meaningful discussions of ways that DHS and other agencies can provide technical assistance with the European migration crisis. We urge you to formulate and provide practical recommendations to share with Greece and her respective border control agencies for direct support combating this crisis, and look forward to working with you on this issue.

Sincerely,

Congressman Gus Bilirakis

Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney