Fri, 30 Jul 2021

RITSONA, Greece, June 20 (Xinhua) -- Residents of Ritsona refugee camp, an hour's drive northwest of Athens, marked the World Refugee Day on Sunday with a symbolic demonstration held around the site that hosts about 3,000 people.

This is a day of struggle for ending wars and improving living conditions for the millions of displaced across the globe was their message to the world.

Parwana Amiri, a 16-year-old from Afghanistan, was one of the organizers leading the march.

"Today is the World Refugee Day, but we don't have any reason to celebrate it. But we have many reasons to struggle and to show that there are many things that need to be changed," she told Xinhua.

"We are asking for our rights. We cannot live like prisoners in a camp restricted with walls," she said, as construction on a wall around the camp is continuing.

Amiri arrived in Greece 19 months ago. Like most of the residents of the Ritsona camp, she had lived in a camp on a Greek island where she arrived by boat from Turkey before being transferred to the mainland. Due to the pandemic, refugees were not allowed to leave the camps for several months.

"Break walls. Freedom of movement is everybody's right," read protesters' banners.

Millions of European Union (EU) funds allocated for the construction of walls at borders and camps in Greece should be instead invested to further improve the living conditions of refugees, Amiri and her fellow protesters said.

They requested the acceleration of asylum procedures and unhindered access to education. Amiri wants to learn the Greek language to better communicate with locals and study in the university. Due to the pandemic, schools closed for several months, including classes inside camps.

"What we are asking for is our freedom, our rights to be respected," added Ibrahim Akourma from the Gambia.

He arrived on Samos island 20 months ago and was transferred to Ritsona in May. He also wants to go back to classroom and be able to build a better life.

Sofia Voultepsi, Deputy Minister of Migration and Asylum, said in a written statement for the day: "As a front-line country, we fully meet our international and ethical obligations ... We offer our help and support to those who really need us."

Six years after the start of the mass influx of refugees into Europe via Greece and other European countries, the Greek government and EU officials have repeatedly acknowledged that despite efforts made and funds allocated, more needs to be done through international cooperation to address the challenges and further help refugees.

More than one million people had reached Greece since 2015 and most continued their journey to other European countries until the borders along the Balkan route were sealed off in 2016.

Currently, about 53,000 people are living in facilities across Greece and there are some 66,000 asylum bids pending, according to the latest official data released by the Greek ministry earlier this month.

During the first five months of 2021, a total of 4,951 individuals left Greece through relocation programs, while 2,981 new arrivals were recorded, down by 68 percent compared to the same period last year, according to the ministry.

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