Since the dirty deal between the EU and Turkey was made on 18th of March the situation in Greece worsened rapidly. Safer formal ways through the Balkan-corridor were closed down already before by the European governments while more than 50,000 refugees are caught up inside Greece. More than 90% come from war torn countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and the majority are women and children. More than one month after the closure of the border to FYROM / Macedonia they are still under shock by the sudden changes unable even to consider alternatives such as relocation, family reunification or asylum. They cannot realize and accept that this is the new reality they have to confront, with everybody being stuck in limbo under inhuman conditions in refugee tent camps all over Greece.
From Monday, 4th of April, on the return agreement with Turkey will be implemented with more than 500 people being readmitted from the Hot Spots on the islands of the Aegean which have been turned into detention and deportation centres in practice. Only the ones applying for asylum or family reunification and unaccompanied minors will not be deported back to Turkey. Asylum applications since a few days have reached unprecedented peaks while the Asylum Service is not able to deal with the many applications. Statistic concerning Asylum applications in Greece 2016 and Hellenic police statistics illegal migration according to nationalities 2016 first 2 months: 61022 Syria, 32776 Afghanistan, 21907 Iraq.
Resistance against deportations in the hotspots on the Greek islands started already: in Moria, Lesvos, the Hot Spot that is totally overcrowded with more then 2,000 detainees a group consisting mainly of Pakistani refugees started a hunger strike. They belong to the five nationalities that are already affected by the more than 700 readmissions that were conducted since the beginning of the year. In “Vial”, the Hot Spot on Chios, half of the people escaped after a revolt on 2nd of April from the closed camp and marched to the port of Chios city where they are staying since then. They are protesting and demanding their freedom of movement in order to travel further on. Today again another protest was started in Vial by mainly Afghan refugees against their deportation. In Athens demonstrations for open borders took place already twice with hundreds of refugees most of which were Afghans, a major group within the refugee population who can not take part in the relocation program and who are largely excluded from the few possibilities of adequate reception conditions. In several open camps on the mainland protests within the last week refugees all over Greece demanded open borders as well as for better conditions in the camps.
Already since several weeks solidarity structures are being increasingly criminalized suffering repression by the authorities and exclusion from different official refugee agglomeration sites. We declare our deep solidarity with all the people who have been since months on the ground, struggling for the rights and dignity of those on the way and a lot of times for their mere survival. The example of Lesvos, which was for the last year the island with the highest number in arrivals, shows how an amazing amount of solidarity and the many support structures could create a welcoming atmosphere even in the hardest conditions reacting immediately to emergency situations contrary to the formal structures of the government, UNHCR or many bigger NGOs.
Since 14th of January Proem-Aid and Team Humanity, two rescue teams being active on Lesvos island, were criminalized when the Greek coast guard arrested their team in Lesvos, for an alleged offence of trafficking in persons. They were arrested while they did exactly what they had been doing already for many weeks: rescuing people who were in danger to drown, often in a close cooperation with the Greek coastguard. They weren’t the only ones: on Lesvos there are several support teams active in recue missions, such as Medicins Sans Frontières (MSF) Greenpeace, Seawatch, ProActiva or Platanos.
Since February the Greek government started requesting from all volunteers active on the beaches and then the others working in and around Moria Hot Spot to get registered. They also demanded from the NGOs active in the respective areas to hand over lists of members and volunteers working for their organizations and register with detailed information on their own structures and funding.
Volunteers and activists were the ones who had been giving refugees shaking from the cold and the horror of distress at sea dry clothes providing also first aid. They were the ones who saved uncounted people suffering serious medical problems unnoticed in the crowds in front or inside Moria Hot Spot. In a lot of situations they started to support the refugees and to coordinate among each other very fast, while the big NGOs were still monitoring and the government still trying to make plans. They were in Moria and in the port of Mytilene in the moments when the big NGOs had stopped their work because the tensions among refugees were estimated to endanger their employees. These activists and volunteers did not only help and save lives, but they also saved the dignity of the companions who had been forced to leave their homes in search for protection and a safe life. They made reality that a welcoming Europe could be possible. These activists are now partly criminalized, while in the same moment they are still asked to provide food for the open camps on the Greek mainland when there is a lack of food or even for those detained, what solidarity groups denied.
None of them need to be registered and listed to be used from authorities for their purposes. They are and want to stay independent. Trying to register them is opposing the power of solidarity of individuals. Statewatch criticized the registration as follows: “There is no better example of the crucial role of independent NGOs and volunteers than in the Greek islands over the last year and for long before that. Now the Greek state at the behest of the EU is seeking to get all volunteers to “register” with the police and hand over lots of personal data including previous “activities” – they are being asked to spy on themselves. And NGOs are being asked register their organisations and hand over personal details of all their volunteers/members to the police. Demands that NGOs hand over personal details of all their members to the state has no place in a democracy. The exceptional measures being taken in Greece may become the norm across the EU if not challenged now by NGOs and civil society.”
In this moment two solidarity spaces on Lesvos are under the threat to be evicted very soon. Both structures did an incredible job by giving food and also a space to rest to thousands of people: The noborder kitchen in Tsamakia beach in the city of Mytilene and Platanos refugee solidarity, the anarchist self-organised space in Skala Sikamnias in the North of the island. Even before the authorities started a offense against the solidarity kitchens by the excuse of improving hygienical standards, like in the case of “O Allos Antrophos” who recently got kicked out of Elliniko Camp where 1,500 refugees are hosted under highly provisory and inadequate conditions – as well as the solidarity kitchen of Pikpa who during autumn supplied refugees in Moria Hot Spot with thousands of meals.
Even the internationally praised open welcome structure in PIKPA (Lesvos) run by the Village of all Together solidarity group is again under threat to be closed. PIKPA, a former summer camp for children, was unused and run-down and is located near the airport of Mytilene. Since November 2012 the mayor of Mytilene gave the permission to use the space for ‘Village of all together’ group. The story of this unique and self-organised place of solidarity that welcomes newly arriving refugees began three years ago in the winter when refugees arriving from Turkey under bad weather conditions had to sleep homeless under trees, waiting for the police to arrest them for registration. Fascists threw stones at a pregnant woman who was sleeping outside. The ‘Village of all together’ then opened PIKPA as a reaction to this unbearable situation and from then on an unbelievably high number of normal people made sure that food could be offered to all on a daily basis – from November 2012 until today. Last year Pikpa started hosting the most vulnerable people among refugees, among them many survivors of shipwrecks who had lost relatives and friends. When Pikpa was under threat to be evicted the last time in March 2015 we collected stories of many people who had spent time in Pikpa. Pikpa accommodated hundreds of vulnerable people also during their asylum procedure and the long-lasting procedures of family-reunification with family members in other European countries.
The Hope Center- Eftalou, a self-organised accommodation place planned to open in the North of Lesvos with exactly the same purpose suffers also great obstacles to get permission and finally start functioning. In the same time in the informal camps in the port of Piraeus and in Idomeni hundreds of highly vulnerable people stay without shelter and even often unidentified by the authorities unprotected in tents without any formal assistance.
Together with all others who stand day by day side by side with the refugees we see only one possible answer that could solve the many problems:
Freedom of movement!