US actress and UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Special Envoy Angelina Jolie Pitt on Wednesday visited Greece on behalf of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.
Her visit comes on the eve of a critical meeting between European Union Member States and the Government of Turkey that will potentially affect thousands of refugees and asylum seekers in Greece.
According to the UNHCR, the Special Envoy’s mission will concentrate on the humanitarian situation of thousands of refugee families in Greece, most of whom were forced to flee Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I am here to reinforce efforts by UNHCR and the Greek government to step up the emergency response to the deteriorating humanitarian situation”, Ms. Jolie-Pitt said in an announcement.
Close to 85 percent of all the refugees and asylum seekers who have arrived in Europe landed in Greece since January 2015. Today, there are over 40,000 people in Greece who have arrived during the past weeks, who desperately need protection and humanitarian support.
As part of her visit, the Special Envoy will reiterate UNHCR’s support to Greece in the expansion and coordination of protection and assistance to refugees, the strengthening of registration and asylum procedures, and the upholding of essential international protection and refugee law standards and the implementation of the EU relocation program.
At noon, Ms. Jolie-Pitt’s visited the passenger stations of the Piraeus Port where some 4,000 refugees and migrants have found shelter in a makeshift camp. She then visited the refugee camp in Eleonas.
At 5 pm, she met with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the Maximos Mansion.
The Greek PM underlined the difficult situation that has developed especially in the northern border of Greece.
“The situation is very difficult especially on the northern border. I know that you visited reception centers in Piraeus. The situation there is better. We have 30,000 people who have been trapped in the Greek mainland due to actions of Balkan route countries,” Mr Tsipras said.
The visit comes the day after the Special Envoy’s visit to Lebanon, on the 5th anniversary of the Syrian conflict, where she stressed the need for leadership and coordinated international action to address the root causes of the global refugee crisis. It is her first visit to Greece on behalf of UNHCR.
Ms. Jolie-Pitt is expected to visit the camp of refugees in Idomeni at the Greece-FYROM border.
The Special Envoy is also due to be participating at a high-level meeting to explore legal pathways for Syrian refugees, such as resettlement, humanitarian admission programmes, private sponsorships, family reunion, student scholarships and labour mobility schemes, later in the month in Geneva.
UNHCR is supporting the authorities in Greece who are responsible for the reception, registration and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers arriving on their territory and has set up eight field offices with hundreds of staff and significant resources to support shelter, water and sanitation, health and protection services among other priorities.
“With the build-up of numbers in Greece during the past weeks, however, efforts are not meeting all the needs on the ground and the situation is deteriorating daily”, UNHCR said in an announcement.