Category: Latest News

Press release: Fatal fire inside Moria refugee camp

In what comes as no surprise to anyone paying attention to the hotspots on the Greek islands, yesterday a fire broke out inside Moria Refugee Camp, which currently houses approximately 13,000 people in unlivable, cramped ‘housing’. The fire apparently started after an electric short-circuit in one container and killed at least one woman and resulted in the severe injury of many others. After the fire was finally put out, with the assistance of many residents of the camp, and the bodies of several carried to ambulances, protests over the conditions inside the camp were met with excessive use of tear gas by the police. Those held in the detention centre inside Moria Camp were trapped there without any medical attention. Without any evacuation plan in place, those that were not detained scrambled to escape the fire, smoke, and tear gas and met locked gates that they had to force open, and barbed wire fences: several individuals were admitted to the hospital yesterday with broken bones, respiratory problems, and lacerations.

Indicative of the Greek government’s framing of migration as an issue of public order, in response to the deadly fire, additional riot police and Michail Karamalakis, the Chief of Police, were flown into Lesvos from Athens yesterday. No emergency medical teams arrived, and there was no immediate plan to address the needs of the thousands of people left without shelter (many afraid to re-enter Moria Camp), several in need of medical attention.

Yesterday’s death is yet another preventable tragedy caused by the inhumane state policies which are systematically denying migrants their rights on the Greek islands. The containment polices, enforced since the EU-Turkey Statement of 2016, which have turned the Greek islands into prison islands for the thousands of migrants that continue to arrive here, must end.

Στης 29 Σεπτέμβριου ξέσπασε πυρκαγιά στον καταυλισμό προσφυγών στην Μόρια, στον οποίο ζουν περίπου 13.000 άνθρωποι υπό απάνθρωπες συνθήκες. Η πυρκαγιά φαίνεται να προκλήθηκε από βραχυκύκλωμα σε ένα από τα κοντέινερ οδηγώντας στον θάνατο μιας γυναίκας και στον σοβαρό τραυματισμό πολλών άλλων. Είναι σημαντικό να τονίσουμε σε αυτό το σημείο ότι η φωτιά σβήστηκε χάρη στη συμμετοχή και βοήθεια των προσφύγων του καταυλισμού. Μετα την κατάσβεση της πυρκαγιάς και τη μεταφορά των τραυματιών στο νοσοκομείο, εκδηλώθηκαν διαμαρτυρίες κατά των συνθηκών διαβίωσης στο καμπ της Μόριας. Οι εν λόγω διαμαρτυρίες αντιμετωπίστηκαν με υπερβολική χρήση δακρυγόνων από την αστυνομία. Οι δε κρατούμενοι στο προαναχωρησιακό κέντρο κράτησης εγκλωβίστηκαν σε αυτό χωρίς να υπάρχει πρόσβαση ιατρικού/νοσηλευτικού προσωπικού.

Η έλλειψη σχεδίου εκκένωσης ανάγκασε τους κατοίκους του καμπ να διαφύγουν όπως όπως από την πυρκαγιά, τον καπνό και τα δακρυγόνα. Οι προσπάθειες διαφυγής τους, όμως, αποδείχτηκαν δύσκολες , λόγω των κλειδωμένων πυλών, τις οποίες αναγκάστηκαν να σπάσουν, μαζί με τις περιφράξεις από συρματόπλεγμα. Αρκετοί άνθρωποι μάλιστα, εισήχθησαν στο νοσοκομείο με σπασμένα κόκαλα, αναπνευστικά προβλήματα και διάφορα άλλα τραύματα.

Η ανταπόκριση της ελληνικής κυβέρνησης σε αυτήν την τραγωδία, με τη χρήση δυνάμεων των ΜΑΤ και την αποστολή του Αρχηγού της Ελληνικής Αστυνομίας Μιχαήλ Καραμαλάκη στη Λέσβο, είναι ενδεικτική της πολιτικής της που έχει ως στόχο τον χαρακτηρισμό του προσφυγικού ζητήματος ως προβλήματος δημόσιας τάξης παρά ως κατεξοχήν ανθρωπιστικής κρίσης. Εκτός την ανάπτυξης αστυνομικών δυνάμεων, δεν συστάθηκε καμία ιατρική ομάδα άμεσης δράσης για την περίθαλψη των τραυματιών.  Ακόμα πιο προβληματική ήταν η έλλειψη σχεδίου για την αντιμετώπιση των αναγκών χιλιάδων ατόμων που βρέθηκαν χωρίς κατάλυμα (πολλοί από τους οποίους φοβούνταν να ξαναμπούν στο καμπ), με αρκετούς να χρειάζονται ιατρική φροντίδα.

Ο χθεσινός θάνατος ήταν ακόμα μια αποτρέψιμη τραγωδία που προκλήθηκε από τις απάνθρωπες κρατικές πολιτικές που συστηματικά στερούν από τους μετανάστες τα δικαιώματα τους στα ελληνικά νησιά. Οι πολιτικές περιορισμού, οι οποίες εφαρμόστηκαν μετά τη Δήλωση ΕΕ-Τουρκίας του 2016, οι οποίες έχουν μετατρέψει τα ελληνικά νησιά σε φυλακές για χιλιάδες μετανάστες που συνεχίζουν να φτάνουν εδώ, πρέπει να τερματιστούν.

“Green” Capitalism of UN Climate Summit insufficient to address extractive resource dependence or protect climate refugees

On Friday there was a global climate strike, concentrated largely in the Global North, in which millions of people marched to demand urgent action on climate change.

The strike has been made possible by the mobilization of a youth movement who are demanding that states and corporations act now to prevent further damage to the planet.

While the Global North is overwhelming responsible for the climate crisis, developing countries in the Global South are disproportionately affected, including extreme weather, drought and rising sea levels, and targeting of environmental activists. As a result of this crisis, since 2008 there has been an annual average of 21.5 million people forcibly displaced by climate change, with 16 million people being displaced in 2018 alone.

The annual displacement of millions of people worldwide, and the targeting of environmental activists as a result of climate change must be addressed, but so far international protection for these individuals remains inadequate. The protection gap lies in the fact that ‘climate refugees’ are not clearly defined and are not covered by the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. The current definition only extends to those fleeing war and persecution and does not include those forcibly displaced because of environmental reasons. Today the UN hosted global climate summit will bring together governments and businesses, in order to discuss a “Green” Capitalism. But a green capitalism will not provide safe and legal means of migration to the millions who are currently effected by the climate crisis. Nor will it address the dependence of the Global North on the violent extraction of resources in the Global South – another significant contributor to the climate crisis and forced migration.

The mobilization of youth in the Global North to demand change and accountability from their governments and corporations is promising, but further work is needed to combat the imperialist and capitalist policies that have caused the climate crisis, and force individuals to leave their homes.

PRESS RELEASE: Legal Centre Lesvos denounces the Greek governments proposed changes to the asylum procedure:

On Saturday 31st August, the Spokesperson for the Greek Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defence announced that a meeting had taken place with the Prime Minister and that seven measures of immediate action would be implemented in order to address the increasing number of people arriving on the Greek Islands. We express serious concern that one of the measures announced is the intention of the Greek government to abolish the appeal stage of the asylum procedure, so that if an asylum application is rejected, they will proceed immediately with the return of the applicant to their country of origin. This announced reform undermines the legitimacy of the asylum process and deprives asylum seekers of their right to effective protection, which is guaranteed by Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 39 of the Asylum Procedures Directive. This announcement has been made in response to the increasing number of arrivals to the Greek Islands- in particular Lesvos-which last week saw the arrival of 547 people in just a few hours.

This announcement is the latest in a pattern of gross violations of the rights of asylum seekers in Greece. These violations include the conduct of interviews by EASO (European Asylum Service) with clearly specified lines of authority to reject applications on completely unjustified grounds, with unsubstantiated judgments about the credibility of asylum seekers, alongside significant errors in interpretation throughout the asylum interview. Those of us who have been accompanying individuals through the asylum process know how many mistakes can be made in this process and how dangerous it is to reform a procedure by removing the ability to challenge wrong decisions. This lack of transparency and protection against arbitrariness would mean that people are deprived from their right to be heard by competent authorities. This suggestion of a faster procedure is an aggressive measure which undermines the basic rule of law.

Although the Greek authorities have yet to clarify the content of the proposed reform, the statement raises concerns about their intent to undermine the rights of those seeking international protection in order to implement the shameful EU-Turkey deal which continues to infringe the human rights of those seeking asylum.

In the face of this announcement, we express our solidarity with all those seeking international protection and we will continue to defend and advance human rights.

Baseless Smuggling Charges Not Only in Italy, but are a Regular Occurrence in Lesvos

(scroll down for Greek text)
In Lesvos, where boats and dinghies carrying migrants from Turkey continue to arrive on a nearly daily basis, it is common practice of the local police to arrest the driver of the boat and charge him (in most cases it is men who are driving) with smuggling. In coordination with the local prosecutor and judge, these individuals are charged and usually convicted on smuggling charges. As we at the Legal Centre and our partners at Christian Peacemakers Lesvos have documented, it is often migrants themselves who are forced to drive the boats leaving Turkey for Greece. The individuals charged are denied the basic rights to a fair trial, guaranteed under Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, as they are routinely denied adequate interpretation, are denied a fair hearing, and convictions are based on the sole fact that the individual was driving the boats attempting to reach Europe from Turkey.
It is difficult to monitor the number of individuals who have been arrested and convicted on smuggling charges in Lesvos, as those charged are detained upon arrival and often transferred to Greek prison after an expedited trial within just a few days. Last week at least three individuals who were driving dinghies from Turkey to Greece were arrested and charged with smuggling, including a 16 year old. In this case, likely due to the young age of one of the accused, their arrest was reported in the local press. However, most individuals arrested do not have access to media, social movements, solidarity actors, or legal aid. They remain nameless and without international movements coming to their defense.
We denounce the arrest of Carola Rackete in Italy on smuggling charges, and the continued criminalization of solidarity and migrants themselves. We demand the immediate release of Carola Rackete. We also demand the immediate release of all those who are arrested on similar charges here in Lesvos on a regular basis, and who have received far less attention and support.
Αβάσιμες Κατηγορίες Λαθρεμπορίου Όχι μόνο στην Ιταλία, Aλλά ένα Σύνηθες Συμβάν στην Λέσβο
Στην Λέσβο, όπου βάρκες και φουσκωτά σκάφη μεταφέρουν μετανάστες από την Τουρκία συνεχίζουν να καταφθάνουν σε καθημερινή βάση, είναι μια κοινή πρακτική από την τοπική αστυνομία να συλλαμβάνει τον οδηγό της βάρκας και να του ασκούνται κατηγορίες ( στις περισσότερες περιπτώσεις άνδρες οδηγούν τις βάρκες) για λαθρεμπόριο. Σε συνεργασία με τον τοπικό εισαγγελέα και δικαστή, αυτά τα άτομα κατηγορούνται και συνήθως καταδικάζονται για της κατηγορίες του λαθρεμπορίου.
Όπως εμείς στο Legal Centre και οι συνεργάτες μας στην Christian Peacemakers Lesvos, έχουμε καταγράψει, συνήθως είναι μετανάστες οι οποίοι εξαναγκάζονται να οδηγήσουν τις βάρκες που φεύγουν από την Τουρκία για την Ελλάδα. Τα άτομα που κατηγορούνται, τους αρνούνται τα βασικά δικαιώματα για δίκαιη δίκη, η οποία εγγυάται σύμφωνα με το Άρθρο 6 της Ευρωπαϊκής Συνθήκης των Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων, επίσης συστηματικά τους αρνούνται επαρκή διερμηνεία, δίκαιη ακρόαση, και οι κατηγορίες βασίζονται μόνο στο γεγονός ότι τα άτομα αυτά οδηγούσαν τις βάρκες προσπαθώντας να φτάσουν στην Ευρώπη από την Τουρκία.
Είναι δύσκολο να εποπτευθεί ο αριθμός των ατόμων οι οποίοι έχουν συλληφθεί και καταδικαστεί για λαθρεμπόριο στη Λέσβο, από τη στιγμή όπου οι αποδέκτες των κατηγοριών κρατούνται μετά την άφιξη τους και συνήθως μεταφέρονται σε Ελληνική φυλακή μετά από μια εσπευσμένη δίκη μέσα σε μόνο λίγες μέρες. Την προηγούμενη εβδομάδα τουλάχιστον τρία άτομα που οδηγούσαν σκάφη από την Τουρκία για την Ελλάδα συνελήφθησαν και τους ασκήθηκαν κατηγορίες για λαθρεμπόριο, συμπεριλαμβανομένου ενός 16 χρόνου. Σε αυτή την υπόθεση, πιθανώς λόγω του νεαρού της ηλικίας του ενός εκ των κατηγορουμένων, η σύλληψη τους αναφέρθηκε στον τοπικό τύπο. Ωστόσο, τα περισσότερα άτομα που συνελήφθησαν δεν έχουν πρόσβαση στα μέσα μαζικής ενημέρωσης, κοινωνικά κινήματα, αλληλέγγυους φορείς, ή νομική βοήθεια. Παραμένουν ανώνυμοι και χωρίς διεθνή κινήματα να έρχονται να τους υπερασπιστούν.
Αποδοκιμάζουμε τη σύλληψη της Carola Racketeστην Ιταλία για κατηγορίες λαθρεμπορίου, και τη συνεχόμενη ποινικοποίηση της αλληλεγγύης και των μεταναστών. Απαιτούμε την άμεση αποφυλάκιση της Carola Rackete. Επίσης απαιτούμε την άμεση αποφυλάκιση όλων εκείνων που έχουν συλληφθεί για παρόμοιες κατηγορίες εδώ στην Λέσβο σε συστηματική βάση, και εκείνων που έχουν λάβει πολύ μικρότερη προσοχή και υποστήριξη.

Trial of Sapfous 122- Not Guilty Verdict on All Charges

Press Release: Peaceful demonstration and the human right to freedom of assembly prevails (scroll down for Greek text)

On 9th of April 2019, in the Misdemeanours Court of Mytilene, the 110 on trial for resistance against authorities, rioting, and illegal occupation of public property were found not-guilty of all charges against them.

The charges were brought last year, after a peaceful sit-in of approximately 180 refugees took place in a small part of Sappho Square in the center of Mytilene between April 17- 23, 2018, in protest against poor living conditions in Moria Camp, lack of medical care and access to health services, imprisonment on the island and the long delay in their asylum process. The trigger of the mobilisation was the hospitalisation and death of an Afghan asylum seeker with serious health problems.

What fundamentally differentiated this peaceful demonstration from previous demonstrations by refugees in Sappho Square was the unprecedented organised violent assault against the protestors by far-right elements with fascist and racist motives from the afternoon of 22 April up to 4 a.m. the following day, 23 April.

While the police initially made efforts to protect the protestors during the attack, as is their duty, and formed a protective ring around them so as not to come in direct contact with the attacking mob, they did not manage to protect them from the continuous throwing of stones, glasses, flaming objects, tiles, and bottles; which resulted in many injuries to the demonstrators and those standing in solidarity with them.

Throughout the night, the police did not arrest any of the attackers, as one might expect. Instead, in the early morning when the situation was seemingly calm, the police continued the assault against the demonstrators and carried out a swift and violent evacuation of the Square, using tear gas and riot gear to forcibly encircle the demonstrators. The fearful and panicked demonstrators, including many mothers and young children, were arrested and led to the police vans without any prior warning, making it self evident in the trial that no rioting or resistance during the operation of the evacuation could have taken place. For all the above reasons, the acquittal on all charges of all the accused is important, as was the recognition by the court that the constitutionally guaranteed right to peaceful demonstration superseded the alleged crime of illegal occupation of public property.

It was evident throughout the trial, through the testimony of the witnesses and defendants, that what was at issue was not that the public square was partially occupied, perhaps at the inconvenience of some individuals – but that the state was attempting to criminalize the constitutionally and legally exercised right to freedom of assembly. They did so with such tactics as disassociation of this trial from the unprecedented fascist and violent assault on the migrants, and by proceeding to trial in a case that lacked evidence of any crime being committed. Like many similar cases of criminalization of migrants in Lesvos, this case never should have gone to trial.

Legal Center Lesvos represented eight of the defendants, and appeared as a witness in the trial, having monitored the peaceful protest and the violent attack and arrest on the night of 22-23 April, joining HIAS Greece who represented 33 defendants at trial. We welcome this outcome, as it is the only logical outcome if the rule of law and the rights of individuals to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are upheld.

Δελτίο Τύπου: Η δική των “Σαπφούς122”-Αθωοτική απόφαση για όλες τις κατηφορίες-Η ειρηνική διαδήλωση και το ανθρώπινο δικαίωμα της ελευθερίας του συνέρχεσθαι επικρατούν

Στις 9 Απριλίου 2019, στο Τριμελές Πλημμελειοδικείο Μυτιλήνης, κρίθηκαν αθώοι οι 110 κατηγορούμενοι για αντίσταση κατά της αρχής, στάση και παράνομη κατάληψη δημόσιου κτήματος.

Η δικογραφία είχε σχηματιστεί τον περασμένο χρόνο, ύστερα από μία ειρηνική καθιστική διαδήλωση που πραγματοποιήθηκε σε μικρό μέρος της πλατείας Σαπφούς στο κέντρο της Μυτιλήνης από περίπου 180 προσφυγές για τις κακές συνθήκες διαβίωσης στην Μόρια, την έλλειψη ιατροφαρμακευτικής φροντίδας και πρόσβασης σε υπηρεσίες υγείας, τον εγκλωβισμό τους στο νησί και την μεγάλη καθυστέρηση της διαδικασίας ασύλου. Αφορμή για την κινητοποίηση είχε σταθεί η νοσηλεία και μετέπειτα ο θάνατος ενός Αφγανού αιτούντα άσυλο με σοβαρά προβλήματα υγείας.

Αυτό που διαφοροποίησε θεμελιωδώς αυτή την ειρηνική διαδήλωση από τις προηγούμενες διαδηλώσεις προσφύγων στην Πλατεία Σαπφούς ήταν η πρωτοφανής οργανωμένη βίαιη επίθεση εναντίων των διαδηλωτών από ακροδεξιά στοιχεία με φασιστικά και ρατσιστικά κίνητρα που έλαβε χώρα από το απόγευμα τις 22. Απριλίου έως και τις 4 το πρωί της επόμενης ημέρας, της 23. Απριλίου.

Ενώ η αστυνομία αρχικά, ως όφειλε, κατέβαλλε προσπάθειες να προστατεύσει τους διαδηλωτές κατά τη διάρκεια της επίθεσης σχηματίζοντας έναν προστατευτικό κλοιό γύρω τους ώστε να μην έρθουν σε άμεση επαφή με τους επιτιθέμενους ημεδαπούς, δεν κατάφερε ωστόσο να τους προστατέψει από την συνεχή ρίψη πετρών, γυαλών, φλεγόμενων αντικειμένων, πλακακίων, μπουκαλιών με αποτέλεσμα τον τραυματισμό πολλών διαδηλωτών και αλληλέγγυων.

Κατά τη διάρκεια της νύχτας, η αστυνομία δεν συνέλαβε κανέναν από τους επιτιθέμενους, όπως θα ανέμενε κανείς. Αντίθετα, τις πρώτες πρωινές ώρες, όταν η κατάσταση ήταν φαινομενικά ήρεμη, η αστυνομία συνέχισε την επίθεση εναντίον των διαδηλωτών και πραγματοποίησε μια γρήγορη και βίαιη εκκένωση της πλατείας χρησιμοποιώντας δακρυγόνα και ασπίδες για να περικυκλώσει με βία τους διαδηλωτές. Οι φοβισμένοι και πανικόβλητοι διαδηλωτές, συμπεριλαμβανομένων πολλών μητέρων και μικρών παιδιών, συνελήφθησαν και οδηγήθηκαν στις κλούβες της αστυνομίας χωρίς προηγούμενη προειδοποίηση, καθιστώντας αυτονόητο στη δίκη ότι δεν θα μπορούσε να υπάρξει καμία στάση ή αντίσταση κατά των αρχών από μέρους τους κατά την επιχείρηση της εκκένωσης.
Σε συνέχεια του συστημικού ρατσισμού και της διαρθρωτικής βίας εναντίον τους, η αστυνομία, σε συντονισμό με και με την υποστήριξη του εισαγγελέα και του ανακριτή, αποφάσισε να απαγγείλει κατηγορίες και να φέρει σε δίκη τους ειρηνικούς διαδηλωτές, όταν ήταν αυτοί οι οποίοι υπήρξαν θύματα μιας εγκληματικής και βίαιης ρατσιστικής επίθεσης.

Για όλους αυτούς τους λόγους, η απαλλαγή από όλες τις κατηγορίες όλων των κατηγορουμένων είναι σημαντική, όπως και η αναγνώριση από το δικαστήριο της υπεροχής του συνταγματικά κατοχυρωμένου δικαιώματος σε ειρηνική διαδήλωση έναντι του υποτιθέμενου αδικήματος της παράνομης κατάληψης δημόσιου κτήματος.

Κατά τη διάρκεια της δίκης έγινε απόλυτα σαφές από το σύνολο της ακροαματικής διαδικασίας, τις καταθέσεις των μαρτύρων και τις απολογίες των κατηγορουμένων, ότι το διακύβευμα δεν ήταν η μερική κατάληψη μιας δημόσιας πλατείας και η ενδεχόμενη ενόχληση ή ταλαιπωρία μερικών ατόμων αλλά η προσπάθεια ποινικοποίησης του συνταγματικά κατοχυρωμένου και νομίμως ασκηθέντος δικαιώματος του συνέρχεσθαι. Αυτό επιχειρήθηκε με τακτικές όπως την αποσύνδεση αυτής της δίκης από την άνευ προηγουμένου βίαιη φασιστική επίθεση των προσφύγων όπως και προχωρώντας σε δίκη μια υπόθεση χωρίς να τη στοιχειοθέτηση διάπραξης αδικημάτων.
Όπως και πολλές παρόμοιες περιπτώσεις ποινικοποίησης μεταναστών στη Λέσβο, αυτή η υπόθεση δεν θα έπρεπε ποτέ να δικαστεί.

Το Legal Centre Lesvos εκπροσώπησε 8 κατηγορουμένους στη δίκη αυτή και εμφανίστηκε ως μάρτυρας υπεράσπισης, έχοντας παρακολουθήσει την ειρηνική διαδήλωση και την βίαιη επίθεση και σύλληψη τη νύχτα της 22-23 Απριλίου, ακολουθώντας την HIAS Greece που είχε αναλάβει την υπεράσπιση 33 κατηγορουμένων. Χαιρετίζει την έκβασή της, δεδομένου ότι αποτελεί το μόνο λογικό αποτέλεσμα στα πλαίσια ενός κράτος δικαίου που σέβεται το ατομικά και πολιτικά δικαιώματα όλων των ατόμων.

Trial of Sapfous 122 – Today in Mytilene

PRESS RELEASE: Mytilene, Greece

Today 122 people are on trial in Mytilene, Lesvos, after being arrested in the early morning of 23 April 2018. They are charged with resisting arrest, rioting, and illegal occupation of public property. If convicted they could be imprisoned for two years. In the days prior to their arrest last year, 100-200 refugees and migrants who had been living in the notorious Moria Refugee Camp in Lesvos, gathered in Sapfous Square, the main square in town, to protest lack of access to medical care, horrible conditions, and delayed asylum procedures that kept them prisoners on the island.

After less than a week of their peaceful protest, on the night of 22 April 2018, they were attacked by a far-right mob. In this organized violent attack, roughly 200 fascists attacked the refugees and migrants, as well as those standing in solidarity with them, with projectiles.  While 26 people are now facing criminal charges related to the attack against the migrants, during the night not a single attacker was arrested. Only the 122 people facing trial today were arrested, after facing a night of racially motivated violence against them, which left many people, including migrants, journalists, and children injured.

This case shows a continued policy of the police and courts of Lesvos, Greece of criminalizing migrants who protest against their imprisonment on the Greek Islands and the inhumane conditions in Moria camp, denying them their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

The Legal Centre is joining HIAS Greece which is leading the defense and also represents the refugees in the case against the perpetrators of the racist attack. The Legal Centre is joining in defense of the accused, and as a witness for the accused. Follow @lesboslegal and HIAS Greece for updates.

April 2019 Report on Rights Violations and Resistance in Lesvos

Last week, it was reported that in response to criticism the director of the notorious Reception and Identification Centre outside Moria village in Lesvos stated that “anyone who thinks they can do better than us is welcome to try.”

What he misses is that it is actually an obligation of the State to provide adequate reception facilities for asylum seekers. It is also an obligation of the state to respect, protect, and ensure the enjoyment of human rights for all residing in its jurisdiction, including all migrants and refugees.

Three years after the EU-Turkey Statement, time has shown that the Greek state, and the European Union in its role implementing European migration policies, have utterly failed to meet these obligations. The horrible conditions and systematic procedural violations are not only morally, but legally unacceptable.

The practices we have documented in the first quarter of 2019 demonstrate a continued policy of dehumanization, discrimination, and structural violence against migrants entering Europe via Lesvos. Below is just a sampling of the continuing violation of migrants we have repeatedly reported on.

  1. Bureaucratic Obstacles to Realizing Rights

Two ways in which individuals are granted permission to leave Lesvos before their asylum claims are processed are if they are designated vulnerable (a legal designation under Law 4375/2016) or they are found eligible for transfer out of Greece through the Dublin III regulations. We welcome the fact that in 2018, 85% of asylum seekers in Lesvos were granted permission to leave the island on one of these bases. However, due to overcrowding in government provided housing for asylum seekers throughout Greece, the delay for being transferred off the island after permission to leave is granted can take several months, meaning that thousands of individuals who are recognized as vulnerable must remain in Moria Camp unless they are able to secure their own housing.

Furthermore, those who use their own means to travel off the island, and secure their own housing, face further procedural obstacles. While many individuals we have been in contact with have attempted to register at the nearest asylum office after they have moved off of Lesvos, they have either been unable to access the asylum office, or officers at the nearest asylum offices have refused to transfer the individuals’ asylum cases to the nearest office, as is their right. This has meant that these individuals must return to Lesvos for their asylum interviews at their own expense (both travel back to Lesvos and accommodation in Lesvos).

Failure to appear for an interview results in the interruption and closure of one’s asylum case, which has been practically impossible to reopen for many individuals, since 2018 amendments to the Greek Asylum Law require that the asylum seeker show “with specific evidence that the decision to discontinue was rendered under circumstances independent of the applicant’s own will. Article 28 (8), Law 4540/2018.

While individuals who have been designated vulnerable are currently not subject to being deported to Turkey, they are left without status, in a state of legal limbo. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that asylum interviews will take place on the date scheduled, and several individuals have reported to our office that they returned to Lesvos for their interview only to have it postponed.

Case Study: An individual from Syria arrived in Lesvos in December 2017, and was arrested in March 2018 after being wrongfully accused of participating in a riot in Moria Camp. Despite the lack of any credible evidence against him, he spent a year in Greek prison in pre-trial detention, where he was re-traumatized as he had survived imprisonment and torture in Syria.

In March of 2019, he and all other defendants were acquitted on all charges, and he was finally released from prison. His asylum interview was scheduled just a few weeks later, on the 27 March 2019. While he had limited access to medical care while in Greek prison, he was able to visit volunteer medical actors in the days before his interview. Suffering from months of insomnia and other symptoms as a result of his trauma and imprisonment in Greece, he was prescribed with sleeping pills and anti-depressant medication just the day before his interview. He also was assessed as to his vulnerability by a psychologist from KEELPNO (the public health service) the day before his interview, and had to recount to the psychologist the torture he had survived in Syria.

As it was the first day he took this medication, and after months of not sleeping well, he did not wake up the next morning to his alarm. While he admittedly woke up later than he had planned, he managed to arrive at around 10:30am to the EASO office where his interview was to be held; an office 15 km outside of Moria camp and Mytilene, only to find out his case would be discontinued because he had missed his appointment.

Through advocacy and representation of a Legal Centre lawyer, who demonstrated the individual’s previous trauma in Syria, his unjust imprisonment in Greece, and the provision of prescription medication just the day before his interview, his case was finally reopened on the 17 April, and he now awaits to be scheduled for an interview on his asylum claim.

There are many individuals, however, who are not able to access legal aid, or who do not have specific evidence to support reopening their case after missed appointments.

  1. Identification documents denied to individuals granted status

For several months, the Regional Asylum Office in Lesvos has required that those whose asylum cases are approved, to provide proof of residence in order to obtain a Greek resident permit, contrary to Article 24 of Law 4375/2016, which provides that it is an obligation of the competent Asylum office to provide individuals with resident permits if their cases are approved. The vast majority of those granted status in Lesvos are still living in Moria Camp, however, RAO will not issue IDs to these individuals, requiring instead that individuals provide a rental contract for housing outside the camp. This arbitrary requirement, which was not required in the past and is not required from other Regional Asylum Offices in Greece, is a practical impossibility for most individuals and denial of IDs perpetuates the marginalization and exclusion of these individuals from political and civil society.

  1. Increased scrutiny of claims under Dublin III delay and deny family reunification

The Legal Centre has represented an increasing number of individuals applying for reunification with close family members outside Greece under Dublin III regulations. While in past years, copies of identification documents showing family links were sufficient, increasingly the Dublin Units of Third European Countries, in particular Germany, have required individuals to provide translation of documents and DNA evidence, and have required the advocacy of lawyers in order for claims to be approved. European regulations, and Greek law provide that it is the obligation of the state to translate any supporting documentation (Law 4375/2016, Article 41). However, we have documented several cases where the German Dublin Unit has required translation of documents before accepting them as evidence in support of claims.

Case Study: A couple from Afghanistan with a sixteen year old daughter in Germany arrived in Lesvos in February 2018. The couple applied for family reunification under Dublin III regulations in order to join their daughter, who is unaccompanied and living with a state appointed guardian in Germany. They submitted government issued documents and family photos in order to prove the family relationship, and received written letters of support from both their daughter and her guardian. The Greek Dublin Unit recognized the couple’s right to join their minor daughter, and sent a “take charge” request to Germany in May 2018.

In June 2018, their daughter’s asylum case was approved in Germany and she was granted refugee status, however, the same month, the Germany Dublin Unit rejected her parents request to join her, stating that they needed an English or German translation of documentation showing the family relationship, and further proof of the relationship. In July 2018, with representation of the Legal Centre and support of the Greek Dublin Unit, the couple requested the reexamination of their request to join their minor daughter, and requested a DNA test in case the documentation submitted was considered insufficient. Because of bureaucratic delays, and a second rejection of the take charge request by Germany, the DNA test samples were not taken and compared until January 2019, nearly six months later.

The DNA test confirmed the family relationship and in March 2019, Germany finally accepted that the couple had the right to join their minor daughter in Germany. To date, the couple awaits to be reunited with their child, over a year after arriving in Greece, and nearly a year after the Greek Dublin Unit recognized their right to join their daughter.

  1. Arbitrary Detention Practices and Collective Punishment of Detainees

Greece continues its discriminatory practice of detaining upon arrival individuals based on nationality in Lesvos. While the number of detainees in Lesvos has decreased, this is mainly due to the change in demographic of arrivals in 2019 – the vast majority are Afghan nationals who are not subject to detention on arrival.

For those detained, practices are often changed without notice or justification. In January, after one individual escaped from detention, all detainees were denied access to their phones, and lawyers, including from the Legal Centre, were denied access to clients in detention for several days.

While in the past detainees had access to their phones throughout the week, currently, detainees are only granted access to their phones on Saturdays and Sundays. Most deportations to Turkey are carried out on Thursdays, meaning that individuals subject to deportation who learn that they are scheduled for deportation only hours before the detention, are unable to communicate with family, friends, or lawyers prior to their deportation.

WhatsApp profile photo of individual detained in Moria detention centre, as they are only able to access their phones on Saturday and Sunday.

There have also been reported cases of the deportation to Turkey of individuals who have not had their claims heard in Greece. One Senegalese national, who through an attorney had notified the police and asylum office of his intention to file a subsequent application for asylum was deported to Turkey before this claim was considered.

Resistance and Organizing in Greece 3 Years after EU-Turkey Statement

  • On 16 March, in coordinated actions held in cities across Europe and Greece, around 200 people marched through Mytilene, demonstrating against the racist policies of Fortress Europe and the EU-Turkey Statement. Activists in Lesvos erected a fence around the statue of the Mother of Asia Minor, which commemorates the arrival of Greek refugees in Lesvos from the West coast of what is now Turkey. Locals and migrants gave speeches about the impact of the deal. Migrant leader, Sohel Miah, who in January 2019 was arrested on baseless charges and three weeks later released, denounced the dehumanizing policies that help to legitimize racists attacks against migrants, like the tragic terrorist attack against Muslim refugees in New Zealand in March. “This attack was not only an attack against Muslim people. We must all stand together as one humanity. As community leader for Bangladesh I have stood with my brothers and sisters from all countries to protest deportations, to protest deaths in Moria, delays in EASO, and no freedom of movement. In Greece, I have been arrested, I was in prison, and I was falsely accused of crimes I did not commit. But I will not stop fighting for freedom for all my sisters and brothers. We need to end the EU-Turkey Deal. We need to open the borders for all people and not just for Europeans.”

  • On 5 April, over one thousand migrants and refugees gathered in protest in Northern Greece outside of Thessaloniki in Diavita, and in the Larissa train station in Athens, with the stated intention of attempting to cross the northern border of Greece. Following an announcement in early 2019 by the Ministry of Migration that recognized refugees would lose state benefits – including cash assistance and housing – migrants and recognized refugees throughout Greece have mobilized, and the recent incidents are not isolated. Contrary to reports that these protests were the result of “fake news” that the borders would open, most migrants know very well that European policies have maintained the borders closed for the past three years, but they gathered in protest in response to these hostile policies of marginalization and exclusion. Predictably, they were met with extensive police violence, and they were prevented from moving north. Freedom of movement was also restricted as the Migration Ministry’s Regional Coordinator cancelled all trains from Athens to Thessaloniki until the mobilization was forcibly dispersed.

  • On 16 April, in a strike organized by the Trade Union of the Employees in Non-Governmental Organizations, and joined by Legal Centre attorneys, NGO workers demonstrated in Athens against the same announced plan to terminate accommodation and financial aid to refugees who have received a positive response to their asylum application.

Legal Centre Updates

Since August of 2016, the Legal Centre has operated on principals of nondiscrimination, support for migrant movements, and in recognizing and advocating against exclusionary polices of the EU and Greece. We have not compromised these positions to secure funds, and have limited our funding from individuals and donors with a similar ethical standing as our own in order to maintain our independence. We are proud that our political positions have been recognized by partners and funders alike. In 2019, we secured increased support from La Garriga Societat Civil and Fons Catala. Additionally, in March 2019 Fundacion Heres has renewed its support for the Legal Centre, for a limited time period. Because of this support, we are now able to recruit for a fundraising position, in order that we can ensure the continued and sustainable presence of the Legal Centre in Lesvos.

In other funding news, the Mosaik Support Center and Lesvos Solidarity – Pikpa are going through funding crisis and need your help. Since we started working on the island, the Legal Centre has been hosted in Mosaik Support Centre, which provides a space of warmth, safety and community for the most vulnerable populations on Lesvos. Over the past two and a half years, we have been proud to be a part of this community formed at Mosaik Centre. Please see the linked statement and share with your networks in order to secure sustainable future of Mosaik Centre and Lesvos Solidarity.

Ongoing Criminalization of Refugee Protests – Upcoming trials against migrants on Lesvos

Re-post from Deportation Monitoring Aegean

The criminalization of refugees protesting for their rights on Lesvos Island continues.

In April 2018, 32 people from the Moria 35 who had been arrested arbitrarily following a peaceful sit-in strike were convicted without any reliable evidence. Now, three more trials against refugees will be held at the end of February 2019.

Two of the trials address peaceful protests on the central Sapphous square of Mytilene, Lesvos, in November 2017. 13 adults and 4 minors are charged. The first trial will take place on 21st of February and the defendants are charged for camping on a communal space. The second trial is scheduled for the 28th of February with the charge of attempt to occupy a public space. In addition, some of the defendants are accused for disobedience and others for resistance against the police.

The third trial addresses protests in the Syrian family section in Moria camp on March 14th, 2018. Eight people have been arrested, and five of them have been held in pre-trial detention since. Their court case will take place on the 22nd of February on Chios Island.

A fourth trial against refugees who have been protesting on the central square of Mytilene will follow. The hearing date is the 9th of May 2019. The group has been arrested on the night of 22/23rd of April 2018. They were peacefully protesting against the situation on Lesvos, when they were attacked by a group of about 300 right wing nationalist with Molotov Cocktails, rocks, sticks, and bottles. Until the early morning, the refugees were trapped on the square. While the violent attack took place, and after the violence came to an end, the police did not follow the aggressors but instead turned to the refugees who had been targeted by fascists for hours and took them to the police station. The public prosecutor’s office presses charges against them for the attempt to occupy public space, disobedience and resistance.

The upcoming court cases on the end of February mark another peak in a chain of systematic criminalization of refugees, who are only claiming their rights and protesting against the restriction of movement to the Greek Islands and the inhumane conditions in Moria camp.

Accusations for protests on the Sapphous Square of Mytilini

The events on Sapphous square

On 20th October 2017, a large group of Afghan refugees left the camp of Moria after violent incidents in the camp. Due to the inhumane living conditions, unequal treatment and the massive overcrowding of the camp, there are frequent outbreaks of violence leaving even uninvolved individuals badly injured.

About forty people refused to go back to Moria camp and stayed on the central Sapphous square in Mytilene, among them families with small children who were later joined by more people with different national backgrounds. For more than a month, the protesters slept on bare ground with only blankets to cover them. When strong rain started, the protestors usually did not spend the night in the square, but found alternate places to sleep for the night, and then returned to the square in the morning. Only some set up thin camping tents. They claimed the conditions were still better than staying in Moria camp.

One of the protesters, a young woman from Afghanistan explained:

They say you can only leave Moria when you are vulnerable. So they force us to stay there until we are made vulnerable. This is crazy, no one can live in Moria, especially for women it is really dangerous.”

While there was a strong solidarity movement among the Greek and international community, the protestors were also several times confronted by right wing groups on the square.

On November 20th, the municipality called for a general strike with speeches on the square that was joined by nationalist groups. The refugee protesters left the square during this assembly on November 20th and marched on the same day to the UNHCR office to present their demands for freedom of movement.

When they tried to return to the square the next day, they were surrounded by police and harassed by hostile local groups. The police aggressively pushed the refugees aside, surrounded them and evicted the square. During this action, some of the protesters were hurt by the police, including a young child. While the refugee protestors were violently expelled from the square by the police, they did not engage in any violence themselves.

The court case

More than a year later, 17 of the protestors of the Sapphous square events are now facing a trial in court. They were not even officially notified. Most of them have already been recognized as refugees, some live in Athens in the self-organized place “Hotel City Plaza”. The charges against them include camping on a public space, disobedience and resistance against the police. The court dates in Lesvos are the 21st and the 28th of February.

We demand freedom for all accused protestors. The only “crime” they committed is demanding their legitimate rights to be allowed to move freely within Greece instead of being forced to live in the inhumane conditions of the European Hotspot camp Moria. The situation in Moria has been evolving as a result of the EU-Turkey statement that forces asylum seekers to remain on the Greek Islands. A member of Doctors without Borders described Moria as “the worst refugee camp in the world”. We stand in solidarity with all of the accused people.

Accusations against the Moria 8

On March 14th, 2018 at about 6.15 pm, clashes between migrants and police took place in the Arab family section of Moria camp. Small fires broke out and the police shot teargas in the family section that badly affected the inhabitants, among them many young children. Several families fled the camp.

Three days later, eight individuals – four Iraqis and four Syrians – were arrested and charged for endangering human life. The police bases the arrest warrant on the accusation of a single person, an inhabitant of Moria camp who had at that time the function of a community leader for migrants from Iraq.

The community leader claimed to have recognized all of the eight, although it was dark, smoke and teargas was in the air and the faces of the refugees involved in the clashes with the police were covered. Many of the accused migrants reported that they did not even know the community leader personally. At the same time, none of the 17 police men who testified had been able to recognize a single person. The role of community leaders in Moria Camp, which involves appointment using various methods across different nationalities – and approval of the individual by authorities – is undefined and unorganised and leads to many different personalities filling this position.

On the day the former Iraqi community leader testified, his geographic restriction to the island of Lesvos was removed and he was able to leave to the Greek mainland. Repeatedly, community leaders reported that they have been put under pressure by the police to pass on information and were threatened with criminal prosecution themselves, or that it would harm their own asylum claim if they did not cooperate. Moreover, they are offered to be able to leave the horrible conditions on Lesvos if they work as informants. This might have triggered the only witness to make false claims and accuse eight people.

In two cases there is clear evidence showing the innocence of the defendants. One man from Syria was not in Moria at the time of the protest but in the town of Mytilene, as testified by a witness and backed up by a dated photo taken of him in town. When he arrived in the camp, he immediately helped a heavily pregnant woman in front of the camp, who had been badly affected by the teargas. Together with two other witnesses, he brought her to the hospital. The four people only arrived back in the camp at night when the clashes had died down. Another accused man from Iraq was working as translator for the NGO “Moria Medical Support” during the time of the protests.

Five of the accused have been kept in pre-trial detention since ten months awaiting their trial. On Wednesday, the 22nd of February 2019, the trial will be held on Chios Island. After the unjust conviction of the 32 people the year before, it is again likely that the accused will also be convicted without any evidence.

The lengthy pre-trial detention and the charges based on dubious accusations outline another case of criminalization of protests and a violent crackdown on resistance of people protesting.

Both trials are symbolic for the ongoing criminalization of refugees opposing the system of encampment and deportation, imposed at the EU borders.

Freedom for the protesters on Sapphous Square!

Freedom for the Moria 8!

The defendants need support for their court cases.

Cost arise for court fees, expense allowance for lawyers, ferry tickets and accommodation for defendants and witnesses.

We collect donations on:

borderline-europe e.V.
GLS Bank, Bochum
IBAN: DE11430609674005794100
IBAN paperform: DE11 4306 0967 4005 7941 00

Donation-Subject: Refugee Support Lesvos