Legal Centre Lesvos Quarterly Report: July – September 2022

As the conditions worsen in Lesvos’ Reception and Identification Center in Lesvos (known as Mavrovouni RIC), the new Closed Controlled Access Center (CCAC) in Vastria continues to be built with the full support of the European Commission, despite the multiple voices raised against its construction: away from sight in the middle of a forest. Vastria has come to represent the future policies of the European Union and Greek State; more construction, fences and walls for people, at the expense of nature. The wildfires that raged for nearly a week in Lesvos this summer and devastated the Vatera region of the island do not seem to concern those behind the rushed construction in Vastria camp, which is located in the middle of one of the biggest pine forests of the island. The transportation of construction materials for the camp often comes from mainland Greece in the night, under the guise of darkness, with a cohort of police overseeing their protection. It is evident that the State is very much aware of the thin ice it has been walking on, and the recent violent repression of demonstrations, protests, and even music concerts shows that the situation has reached a boiling point ahead of the upcoming national elections in Greece in 2023. From Moria to Mavrovouni, there were no improvements in the living conditions of these supposed reception and identification centers.  On the contrary, the inhuman and undignified reality that camp residents face are inherent in camps whose purpose is to concentrate people in fenced off areas, based on their nationality and legal status, for the sole purpose of categorising those who are ‘deserving’ of international protection, and those who are not. In the light of the existing conditions on Mavrovouni RIC, one can easily predict the future of the CCAC in Vastria. 

Legal Centre Lesvos’ position against policies that restrict the right to freedom of movement has not changed. That position extends itself to the practice of pushbacks, as one of the most violent and callous forms of border maintenance. We continue not only to litigate cases before the European Court of Human Rights in representation of survivors of pushback operations, but also are providing (in coordination with organisation such as UNHCR and MSF) legal aid to migrants who have recently arrived to the island from Turkey, and are at risk of being illegally expelled in a pushback operation. Intervention by humanitarian and human rights actors in these situations is essential, not only in ensuring that newly arrived asylum seekers have access to asylum procedures in Greece, but also to ensure immediate medical and psychological care to a population that has likely experienced trauma in the dangerous sea crossing, and continues to experience fear and stress upon arrival to Greece due to the very real risk that they will be captured and abandoned at sea by the Hellenic Coast Guard. Above all, the intervention of these actors is essential in limiting the practical possibility of a violent act of pushbacks, which due to their clandestine illegal nature, occur only when no witnesses are present. Forensic Architecture, in collaboration with other actors including the Legal Centre Lesvos, published a detailed visual platform documenting thousands of cases of pushbacks in the Aegean by the Hellenic Coast Guard, demonstrating the widespread and systematic nature of this policy, which we have long denounced as constituting crimes against humanity.

Further information on updates from Lesvos and our work can be found in our latest Newsletter, available for download here, and below.