Nobody could have foreseen how quickly the situation in the Aegean changed in 2015, due to unpredictable migration movements. More than 7.000 people arrived on the Greek island of Lesvos on a single day in late October 2015 and more than 56.000 people arrived on the island in the last week of October. When we stood on the beaches of northern Lesvos and experienced how one boat after another arrived there, while volunteers from all over Europe welcomed the newly arrived, one could have thought that this border had long been overrun and become a fact of the past. But, at the same time, we became witnesses of the loss of hundreds of people who drowned in the Aegean Sea. Even the mayor of Mytilene demanded ferries that would transport people from Turkey to Greece so long as no safe paths to Europe existed. 2015 was an incredible year. Since we have followed the refugee situation in the Aegean for a long time, we detected major developments here: in 2015 and still today, more and more women and children, as well as old people, those injured through war, and the sick were now travelling. And while the first groups of travellers had to assert themselves at every border anew, as of September, people were able to move more quickly than ever before. Many of those we had encountered along this route in previous years needed months, if not years, to arrive because they were repeatedly arrested for months or had run out of money and thus could not move on. But now, at the end of 2015, the average time of travel amounted to merely 2 weeks, from Turkey to Germany.
In early 2016, circulating threats concerning the closure of the Balkan corridor and the massive militarisation of the border between Turkey and Greece, for example through a novel mandate of the Greek military in coordinating reception and registration, the Frontex Rabit-mission as well as the recently deployed NATO vessels to the area, raise various questions and make it difficult for us, maybe more than before, to make a prognosis. What is clear, however, is that the eastern maritime border of the European Union will remain a contested space and our presence there will continue, to support those on the move who enact their freedom of movement. In the following we will provide an overview of the Infomobil activities in 2015:
On 4th of April 2016 refugees in Idomeni reported to us a push-back operation they experienced at the Greek-Turkish land-border in February. Among the witnesses are a 63-year-old woman and several families with small children.
In the night from 12th to 13th of February they crossed the land-border coming from Edirne/Turkey, fleeing to Greece. They arrived in Greece around 6am. It was a big group of about 120 refugees, among them many children and also several elderly. After the border-crossing they divided into three groups, each group about 40 persons, because it seemed too difficult to walk with the big group. They hide in a forest until it was dark again. At 8pm they started to walk and they walked until 6am.
This was the way the group had already walked by foot.
After the whole night walking the smaller children were unable to continue. In their group of 40 there were 13 children and also 3 elderly, one of the woman sitting with us is about 63 years old, another couple was much older then her, in their 80ies. In this group all people were refugees from Syria, all Kurds from the region of Qamishli.
At about 6am they found a kind of closed compound, maybe belonging to the military (see GPS-position and pictures they had sent via WhatsApp to relatives).
This was near the Greek village Asimenio, between Orestias and Didimoticho. It rained heavily. They entered there, but there was nobody.
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. Continue reading ‘Solidarity structures in Greece confronted with criminalization, control and diverse obstacles’
We were traveling with the ferry Blue Star 1 from Mytilene to Piraeus on the 21.3.16.
As we entered the ship at 19.45 o’clock we saw an overcrowded bus entering filled with with sitting and standing persons. Outside media representatives and volunteers where watching the situation.
Protest against readmissions to Turkey and for the right to continue the journey to Europe
Today, on Tuesday 22nd of March, in the afternoon, hundreds of refugees locked up in the new detention centre and former fabric “Vial” on Chios island started a protest raising their voices against the new Fortress Europe. They continue their struggle for freedom of movement as they became the first refugees affected by the new cruel detention / readmission measures following the dirty deal between the EU and Turkey.
During an antiracist rally that started from Victoria Square in the centre of Athens and passed the Greek Parliament to reach the Offices of the Representation of the European Commission in Greece, hundreds of antiracists along with many Afghan refugees demanded the opening of the border, protection and a safe passage instead of deportations. The Afghans came from different transit camps as Elliniko and Schisto.
Refugees are stuck the islands of the Aegean as Greek government forbid them moving on to the mainland in order to control the distribution of thousands to different mass camps. Currently more than 4,000 persons are caught up in Piraeus port at different gates in warehouses and tents outside. There is no more space for newcomers. Among the refugees in the port are many who were transferred to new mass camps in the periphery but denied to stay in these nowhere lands and returned. Continue reading ‘Moria, Lesvos: Refugee protest against Readmissions to Turkey’
“We need a solution!”, says Mohamed an afghan refugee who protest together with other refugees from Afghanistan in front of the camp Schisto in Attika Region. “Our papers are to expire! We demand from the Greek government to renew them for one month more. Otherwise we will get illegalised and they might detain us here or even deport us back”, he says.
Along the protesters is also a woman from Afghanistan, who is trying to describe the situation inside the camp, inside the big tent where she and her children are sleeping. “The wind blows through the tent. There is no heating. Lately rain water entered the tent. Each of us has just two blankets in order to warm herself in the night. We are freezing! How can I survive with my children under these conditions?”, she says. Next to her is a couple of very elderly refugees also from Afghanistan and a young woman with a serious health problem. She can be fed through a tube that is in her stomach. “The doctors here told me to solely drink water.” Continue reading ‘“We need a solution!” – Refugees protest in front of Schisto camp’
... is like a “paper boat”. We chose this as a metaphor for what we want to create and for the situation of refugees and migrants in Greece. The paper boat is a folded boat able to swim – for a while. Then you have to build a new one to go on travelling. A paper boat is symbolic for the journey of life, vulnerable but in your own hands and to be recreated again and again. It is simple, but it carries many hopes and dreams. It can dance on a turbulent sea. It belongs to everybody. And it might become the small version – like a first draft – of a welcome-space.
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