Five refugees dead in Greek camps since last week due to inadequate reception conditions. Several others tried to commit suicide. Does life still matter in Europe?
– On Monday 30th of January a 20-year-old refugee from Pakistan died in Moria Hot Spot.
– On Saturday 28th of January a 46-year-old Syrian passed away in Moria Hot Spot detention centre reportedly from hypothermia. He was staying in the same tent as another man who died only four days ago.
– Meanwhile the same day in Ritsona camp in mainland Greece a two-months-old baby was transferred to hospital in Chalkida due to a cystic fibrosis and later on passed away in the ambulance which was taking it to Athens. While the parents had to deal with tremendous problems in finding help for their sick child since it was born, and were under shock of its sudden death authorities and media chose to accuse them for minor neglect and bring them to the local police station. Read here: Announcement of the solidarity group in Chalkida
– On Wednesday 25th of January a 42-year-old refugee named Benjo Massoud, father of three children, passed away in the overcrowded Hot Spot on Samos Island. According to Greek media the Kurdish refugee from Iraq had visited on Wednesday morning the camp doctor suffering reportedly from pain in the chest. He reported to have Diabetes and blood high pressure. A cardiogram was made and he got referred immediately to the hospital of the island, where he died while waiting to be examined. An employee of the camp said that the refugee had received already some days ago a letter of a doctor asking for heart exams in the hospital of the island. Despite this fact, he remained in his tent with his family the days that was very cold. Few days ago he had found by himself an empty container and settled in it together with his family. When he informed the camp managers, they just registered the transfer to the prefabricated house. The refugee had arrived on December 7th and went through first reception procedures without anyone noticing any heart problem. Already back in October Medicines Sans Frontiers reported the inadequacy of the system to screen new arrivals for vulnerability in the Hot Spots of the Aegean.
-One day before, on Tuesday the 24th, a 21-year-old Egyptian refugee was found dead in his tent by a friend in the Hot Spot in Moria on Lesbos Island. The cause of his death is still unknown. While reportedly his death was caused by the kerosine heaters’ gas he had inhaled while trying to keep himself warm.
– These were not the first refugee deaths of this winter in Moria. At the end of November 2016 a a 60-year-old woman and her 5-year-old grandchild died in a fire inside their tent while the woman was cooking dinner.
Meanwhile the inhuman conditions have led people to try to commit suicideOn Tuesday four suicide attempts took place in the Hot Spot of Samos. A refugee climbed a tree and threatened to hang himself; another visited the camp clinic with many self-injuries all over his body; yet another had swallowed a razor blade and the fourth had swallowed pills. In total seven refugees tried to commit suicide within the last two weeks only in Samos.
Protests in the camps
The day before the death on Samos Island, refugees had protested inside the Hot Spot desperately asking for help and denouncing the severe lack of doctors while there were reportedly many cases of sick people.
“The problem on Samos Island in Greece is that too many people have died.
We don’t know why they are not doing anything. We don’t have doctors
and they don’t give us any help.
The water and bread all are expired.
If we don’t eat we have to stay hungry.
We are all together sick.
When I was sick the doctor told me: Come back after 2 months so
I give you an info guide.
My wife also has many problems. But they don’t do anything
and I have 5 children.
Please tell us why?
We don’t know what we should do.
Help please! Help us.”
This has no been the first but one of many protests in the Hot Spots since their functioning. Mohammed ist since March 20th in Chios island. He lives in Souda camp and every day he goes to the Hot Spot Vial to protest with his banner. His statement is: “Freedom is expensive!” and
“I am here 9 months. 20 March 2016. How long I wait?”
Egyptian in hunger strike since more than 47 daysOn 28th January, Mohamed Abdilgawad spent his 47th day in hunger strike. He started the hunger strike on December 13, 2016 demanding for the annulment of his deportation decision. He has been in administrative detention in the police station of Mytilene already since October 2016, as a prospective deportee, because his requests to be granted political asylum have been rejected. Only on his 32th day of hunger strike authorities accepted to transfer him to the hospital while before attempting to deport him by force. Following his release from hospital on day 42 of the hunger strike, by responsibility of a pathologist, he got transferred back the same night upon pressure of his lawyer as his health condition was devastating. On January 26th his appeal against the detention was rejected by the court. He remains under constant threat of deportation until today while his condition is life-threatening.
A letter from the hunger striker Mohamed A. (03.01.17)
When the heart becomes silent within the cage of the thorax, the entire body ceases its function. The pain might govern the heart but the true spirit lies in not giving up in time…
Heartbeats of pain in a prison cage
You shouldn’t care about what you might hold in your hands today because tomorrow you might lose it. One day you might find yourself in my place, you might be the visitor in my country. When that day comes I will be better than this! Don’t overestimate your power today, because tomorrow you might be in a hospital and I could be the one who donates blood. Generosity is in how I behave…
Do you think I could get convicted for speaking of justice and for all I feel for the suffering of the people around me? If people are found guilty for speaking of justice, for empowering the weak, for fighting against injustice and saying NO, then I accept the punishment. I would rather die an honest, courageous and decent man, telling the truth, than to live a life without honour and dignity, being a hypocrite. Even if I possessed half of the treasures of this entire world, that would mean nothing because you can’t buy these things with money. This is humanity. Not judging people by colour or religion. We are all equal here. If I am being punished for being human, then this is the purpose of torture: a life without honour, decency, justice. A life where the cowards reign. Oh my God! How brutal is this punishment of conscience…
I am full of strength and I am not forcing you to respect me because, at this time, my strength is fear. Now I am not using my strength because I am trying to understand what you are made of and to not be influenced by it. Because I am like gold: even if you melt it, it is still gold. I won’t change. You will not be able to decrease my potential and strength. Even if you don’t improve your behavior towards me I will not try to confront you, I will not become like you. I will remain as I am and nobody will stop me from speaking of justice.
Here, in this society many people feel what I mean to say because they are full of emotions, they have the ability to understand others and know the meaning of truth. They understand how good it feels to spread love among all religions. How beautiful it is to live in a society that does not know lies or hatred and only wishes for love and peace.
I will defend justice and equality and I will fight against injustice. I will support those who were treated unfairly. I will feel the pain of others even that costs my own lie. No, to a life without equality!
I will be the pen which spews the ink of justice so that the ones who suffered injustice would win and injustice would be demolished.
Where are those who say they defend human rights? Are those just words and do not exist in reality? Are you looking for an answer? Sorry, there is no answer.
This is not the whole story. This was just an introduction. Twenty-two days without food, I have no more strength. I want to speak to you about racism and the ethos of some people. I want to tell you what happened in Egypt. To speak to you about everything…
Refugees not safe in Greek Camps
Severe complaints by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others about the living conditions in the Hot Spots and on the Islands in general concern also problems of security which leave woman, unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable persons unprotected from sexual assaults and abuse, ill-treatment by the police, fights and violence. There have been reported cases of rape and police violence in different Hot Spots. Many refugees suffer severe psychological problems that are also due to their living conditions in the Greek camps. Loic Jaeger, MSF’s Head of Mission in Greece, stated recently when talking to journalists about a refugee woman from Malakassa camp near Athens who was suicidal: “It is unacceptable that we have to help these people in Greece to recover from the trauma which was created by the living conditions here and not the trauma which has been caused to them by war.”
Thousand remain trapped on the Greek islands
Since the EU-Turkey Deal came into function March 20th, refugees are not allowed anymore to move onwards from the islands to the mainland. They have to pass an admissibility procedure, where authorities with the support of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Frontex (now called: European Border and Coast Guard) get registered and their fear of persecution in Turkey gets initially examined. EASO thereby has the task to support Greek Asylum Service in this, but de facto their experts are the ones conducting the interviews ans the suggested decisions are reportedly without further examination taken for granted by Greek authorities. Until now, only Syrians were affected by the admissibility procedure. Nevertheless, only Dublin family reunification applicants and some highly vulnerable persons got permit to leave the islands, leading to a massive overcrowding of the Hot Spots and refugees suffering since months from the devastating conditions in the camps.
According to a Joint Action Plan, which was elaborated with the Greek authorities, and published on December 8th, 2016, also applicants for family reunification and vulnerable persons are to be included in admissibility procedures in future. Furthermore, police presence and guarding as well as fencing of the Hot Spots are to be increased.
Call for the immediate evacuation of the islands
In the beginning of January UNCHR had called for the faster movement of people from Greek islands to mainland, essentially underlining that on Samos, around 700 people including young children and other vulnerable individuals remained in unheated tents in the so called Reception and Identification Centre, as Hot Spot are officially named. Τhe thermal blankets, sleeping bags and winter-protections kits that UNHCR and other organizations gave to the refugees seemed like a bad joke for the ones affected by the cold living for months in tents in sub-zero temperatures at night and winds of 6 bofor.
Meanwhile, refugees on the islands are not only facing the cold but also racists attacks, like for example in Chios. Aid workers and human rights organizations have called already since time for more the immediate evacuation of vulnerable refugees to the mainland, adequate shelters and appropriate measures for the protection of remaining refugees during the winter in order not to put the lives of refugees more at risk.
Greek authorities should take immediate steps to enforce Greek law and transfer asylum seekers who have been on the islands for more than 28 days to the mainland, Human Rights Watch demanded recently. The containment policy violates Greek law, the organization argues. “People who apply for asylum on the islands and are still awaiting a decision after 28 days have the right to access the normal asylum procedure and, consequently, to travel off the islands. While the EU-Turkey statement does not explicitly require keeping asylum seekers on the islands, EU and Greek officials cite implementation of the deal as a justification for the containment policy. Even if transfers would complicate possible returns to Turkey, this is an unacceptable excuse for condemning people to conditions that threaten their health and dignity”.
On Monday the mayors of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros presented their demands for measures to fight severe overcrowding at the Hot Spots on their islands during a meeting in Athens with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras but it remained unclear what action, if any, the government plans to respond with.Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas insisted that the mass transfer of migrants to the Greek mainland would lead the EU-Turkey deal “to collapse.” From the 26,000 people who arrived on the Greek islands after the EU-Turkey Deal, 4,000 people belonging to vulnerable groups have been transferred to the mainland up to now. Nevertheless, according to local media there is still no plan in place to remove refugees in general from the islands.
Asylum procedure too slow
Although the EASO service has been enhanced with 300 people on five islands and Asylum Service has increased the number of their employees to 600, the asylum procedure is still extremely slow.25.270 persons arrived to Greece after the EU-Turkey Deal. Only 6.886 refugees of them had their first asylum interview (until 15.1.2017), while 8,581 first instance decisions were taken (2,138 negative decisions; 3,711 international protection; and 1,562 applied for family reunification, of which 170 got accepted). 13,914 refugees remain on the islands (24.1.2017), while the capacity of the Hot Spots and alternative accommodation amounts to only 8,926.
While most refugees on the Greek Islands had their admissibility rejected, second instance asylum committees that were functioning since the implementation of Presidential Decree 114/2010 in the majority of cases had decided that it is not safe to return to Turkey. This political line was not wanted neither by the Greek government but even less by the EU, the latter exersizing massive pressure for this to change. In an amendment of new migration law 4375/2016 seven new asylum committees were established including persons who had no expertise and who were more likely to decide negatively on the admissibility. These new independent asylum committees then turned the 99% decision rate in favor of refugees from the old committees against a readmission of the applicant into a 1% chance to stay. Also the decision rate of the new committees concerning concerning second instance asylum applications is at 0,00568% only, while the Asylum Service throughout 2014 and 2015 had an average recognition rate in second instance of about 16%!
The Athens based Group of Lawyers for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants denounced these developments and filed on 19th of August 2016 in two cases of Syrian refugees a cancellation request to the Council of State against the acts that had established the Independent Committees and defined their Rules of Operation.
European deterrence policies imposed on Greece
During a visit of Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, on the Greek island of Lesbos on January 18, 2017, the Commissioner denounced the Greek government for mismanaging billions of Euros. Loic Jaeger, MSF’s Head of Mission in Greece, argued that it was scandalous, after the snow in Lesbos to have the representative from the European Commission saying we have been doing everything to help the Greek authorities but we can not do it in their place. “[The camp at] Moria has been built with European money. You have two European agencies which are Frontex and EASO operating in the center. And the fact that [the camp] is full is due to a European decision that people who arrive on the islands should not be allowed to travel to the mainland. How can they pretend they have nothing to do with this?”
The European Commission and the Greek government are seeking to normalize the situation on the islands through the acceleration of the procedures in order to “clean up” before the next tourist season. In this light, IOM is also planning more attractive return packages with more money for the “voluntary” departing refugees. (Since 1.1.2016 6,412 “voluntary returns” were carried out.) The government also holds on their plan to create new deportation prisons on the islands for the ones whose claims got rejected and any refugees considered as criminals.
Mouzalas, is preparing the field for the new repressive measures, with statements where he argues that while in 2015 refugees accounted for 70 to 80 percent of arrivals, now 70 percent of arrivals were economic migrants. On contrary, UNHCR data proofs that still the majority of refugees who arrive are coming from war zones like Syria, Afganistan and Iraq.
While the EU-Turkey deal could seemingly brake down soon due to recent arguments between Greece and Turkey concerning the failure of the first to extradict 8 Turkish soldiers who claimed for asylum in the country, returns to Turkey continued the last days. One Tuesday 13 refugees got sent back; on Wednesday 14. From March 2015 when the Deal was made until today in total 865 refugees have been sent back in its frame (as of 26.01.2017). In total 2,021 persons got readmitted to Turkey from Greece in the period 1.1.2016-20.1.2017. Since March 1,277 were readmitted under different protocols. 134 got returned due to a negative decision in first or second instance. UNHCR stated, that they had no unimpeded access to the deported refugees in Turkey and couldn’t monitor the returns under the EU-Turkey deal in any effective manner.
As written on a refugee banner during a protest:
Behind the tents, see white as snow hearts tired of long travel and all talk.