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WHILE EUROPE STRUGGLES WITH SECOND WAVE OF COVID-19 INFECTIONS, GREECE RUSHES ASYLUM SEEKERS THROUGH PROCEDURES IN LESVOS

The waiting area at the EASO interview site, Pagani, November 2020.

The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) announced last week that it has increased the number of interviews conducted on the Aegean Islands by 170% throughout 2020 – this despite the month-long suspension of asylum, COVID-related lockdowns, and devastating fires that have affected the islands this year. 

In Lesvos, the services of the Regional Asylum Service and EASO have been partially suspended since 2 September 2020, following the first positive COVID-19 case in Moria camp and the fires that subsequently destroyed it. In that time, migrants have been unable to submit appeals or to lodge subsequent applications, meaning that many are stuck in limbo without legal status. 

Those who are outside of the procedure (with a first-instance rejection that they have been unable to appeal, or with a second-instance rejection and no pending procedures) are no longer considered asylum seekers by either the Greek state or UNHCR, and are therefore arbitrarily denied the protections guaranteed to asylum seekers. In addition, they are ineligible for certain forms of assistance, including the monthly cash provision from UNHCR. 

The majority of migrants in Lesvos are residing in the camp hastily built to replace the former Moria RIC. Conditions there remain abysmal, over two months after its construction. There are still no showers, nor adequate running water; single men share rub halls of approximately 300 people; and the standard tents, often housing several families, have flooded repeatedly in response to heavy rains over the past weeks. 

Many of those formerly detained in the pre-removal centre in Moria camp, PRO.KE.K.A, have been arrested and are now held in the Mytiline police station or in a detention centre on mainland Greece. Those in the police station are unable to file appeals or subsequent applications, depriving them of pathways to contest their detention. In the police station, migrants have reported that they have limited access to basic hygiene items, cell phones, or clothes and blankets to stay warm in the cold weather. 

Despite these dire procedural and material circumstances, the authorities have been eager to resume interviews; in fact, EASO recently announced that it aims to complete all interviews for migrants in Lesvos by the end of the lockdown. 

Legal aid actors have issued joint objections, citing the poor quality of remote interviews, the lack of procedural safeguards, and obstacles to migrants’ access to legal aid. Nonetheless, EASO, the Regional Asylum Office of Lesvos, and the new camp’s management have all stated that interviews will continue. In recent weeks, the conduct of interviews  has raised serious concerns about the quality of the procedure and its compliance with European and Greek regulations: 

  • At least three people supported by the Legal Centre Lesvos inquired about their interview dates, only to be put directly on a bus and interviewed that same day. A married couple, for example, went to request an interview date from authorities in the new camp, and were put on a bus without being told why or where they were going. Later, they found out they were being taken for their asylum interview; the written notification for the interview, which states the date and time of the appointment, was provided to them at the start of the interview. They were not prepared mentally for the interview, and worry they will be rejected as a result.

  • Vulnerable people, including unaccompanied minors, are similarly being rushed through the procedures. A minor, who is currently registered as an adult and awaiting an age assessment, was notified of his interview the day before it was conducted. Before and at the beginning of the interview, he repeatedly stated that he is a child, that he is suffering with mental health issues, and that he was not ready to do his interview that day. He reported that the caseworker from EASO told him that, according to the law, he was required to do his interview; the caseworker went on to say that, in any case, EASO staff have to conduct all the interviews by the end of the month.

  • The majority of interviews are being conducted remotely via telephone or video, with neither the interpreter nor interviewer in the same place as the interviewee. Applicants and LCL team members have reported numerous concerns regarding the quality of the interview,  including poor connection on the call, background noise, and a lack of privacy in interviews, and their adherence to Greek and European law. Article 77(11) of Greek Law 4636/2019 and Article 15(2) of the recast European Asylum Procedures Directive 2013/32/EU state that interviews should take place “under conditions that guarantee/ensure the necessary confidentiality” – yet EASO officers are conducting interviews remotely from their homes, where there is no guarantee that family, housemates, or visitors cannot hear the content of the interviews.

  • Furthermore, Article 15(3) of the European Asylum Procedures Directive 2013/32/EU states that appropriate steps should be taken to ensure that “personal interviews are conducted under conditions which allow applicants to present the grounds for their applications in a comprehensive manner.” The aforementioned technical and procedural issues compound frequently-reported concerns about the interview, including challenges in interpretation and a lack of sensitivity to Applicants’ disclosure of trauma, and therefore compromise Applicants’ ability to present their case. The following incidents experienced by beneficiaries of the Legal Centre illustrate how these problems can both retraumatize applicants, and potentially result in rejection of asylum cases:

    • In an interview conducted remotely via video, the EASO officer’s dog repeatedly interrupted the interview, causing undue stress to the applicant;
    • In another remotely conducted interview, the Applicant was constantly interrupted by the EASO caseworker, who asked her to shorten her answer because the caseworker said she had difficulties taking notes, due to the poor connection. The applicant felt she was not able to fully describe her eligibility for international protection, and worries her case will be rejected as a result.
    • A female survivor of sexual assault was interviewed by a male EASO caseworker and male interpreter, despite EASO’s Practical Guidelines, which state that:  “every effort should be made to enable the applicant to provide a full and accurate account by assigning a case officer and interpreter of a sex that does not make the applicant feel threatened or uncomfortable. This is vitally important where the applicant has been a victim of rape or sexual abuse.” She had to wait five hours from her scheduled interview time until the interview started, and then it lasted until 9pm. At no point was she offered the option of having a female EASO officer or interpreter. She was repeatedly questioned about the sexual assault she survived, causing her extreme stress and anxiety. She had no food or water during this time and only one break during the interview, despite the fact that she was crying. She had difficulty continuing the interview, and is anxious now about the result.

  • Moreover, Applicants are not adequately informed of the modalities of the interview, in violation of the EASO Guidelines which require that, “when organising personal interviews remotely, invitation letters will have to be adapted to inform the applicant accurately about the modalities of the interview”. The guidelines further state that Applicants should be given the choice of whether or not to complete their interviews remotely, while EASO caseworkers themselves should conduct a case-by-case assessment on the suitability of a remote interview for the Applicant.

  • While EASO officers are able to conduct interviews from the comfort and safety of their homes, Applicants are bussed from the new camp (where conditions remain abysmal) to the interview site and left to wait, outside and in confined conditions, often for several hours. There is limited access to hygiene facilities, and migrants reported that the bathrooms are very dirty; there is no or very limited provision of food or water; and there is very little shelter from the cold weather. Some people supported by Legal Centre Lesvos reported that they were instructed to stay seated, and told that they should not move or talk. These are exhausting and inappropriate conditions for anyone, but particularly when people are awaiting a substantive interview about trauma they have survived in their home country. Furthermore, given the present COVID-19 pandemic, such overcrowded conditions also place Applicants’ health at serious risk.  

EASO’s emphasis on its own “productivity,” in face of such widespread procedural violations, underlines the agency’s willingness to gloss over the migrants’ rights (and its own legal obligations) in pursuing corporate metrics of success. 

Earlier this year, an investigation revealed the role of United States based consulting agency McKinsey & Company in the development and implementation of the EU’s Joint Action Plan on Migration, with particular regard to the design of the border procedures. Documents, obtained after freedom of information requests, demonstrated McKinsey’s ongoing focus on ‘targeted strategies’ and creating a ‘streamlined end-to-end asylum process’ – with little mention of guarantees for asylum seekers. 

McKinsey initially provided a twelve-week consultancy, free of charge, to the Greek Asylum Service and relevant EU agencies. In January 2017, however, EASO itself signed a contract with McKinsey worth almost a million euros. The contract faced significant criticism for its violation of European procurement regulations, and yet the project itself was implemented. Throughout, the “driving logic” of McKinsey’s intervention and recommendations was “maximising productivity.” While the contract might have ended, it seems that McKinsey’s metrics remain in EASO’s operations. 

EASO’s ongoing commitment to productivity, as opposed to adherence to their legal obligations and the procedural rights of asylum seekers, raises additional and serious concerns about the agency’s role in the asylum procedure. Personal interviews should not be conducted when such grave procedural concerns remain unaddressed, nor when the transfer and waiting period puts Applicants in situations which heighten their risk of contracting COVID-19.  




AN ATTACK ON SOLIDARITY AND SAFE ACCOMMODATION: THE FORCED CLOSURE OF PIKPA CAMP / ΕΠΙΘΕΣΗ ΣΤΗΝ ΑΛΛΗΛΕΓΓΥΗ ΚΑΙ ΣΤΗΝ ΑΣΦΑΛΗ ΔΙΑΜΟΝΗ: ΤΟ ΕΞΑΝΑΓΚΑΣΤΙΚΟ ΚΛΕΙΣΙΜΟ ΤΟΥ ΠΙΚΠΑ

(ελληνικά παρακάτω) A shelter that has for years been a symbol of humanity and solidarity was forced to close today.

Police forces evacuated PIKPA in Lesvos, a place that hosted thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees since 2012. They are doing it with no previous notification, on the same day that the European Court of Human Rights was about to judge on the applications for interim measures of two vulnerable cases who had asked for the suspension of their removal. They are doing it despite the fact that, throughout all its years of operation, PIKPA has provided dignified living conditions to its residents in stark contrast to reception facilities run by the state.

The widespread reaction to the Greek Government’s intention to move the people hosted in the shelter, at least, saved them from having to be moved to unacceptable conditions, like those prevailing in the new Kara Tepe hosting facility (rightly described as Moria 2.0). They will instead be moved to the old Kara Tepe, which is run by the Municipality with the assistance of UNHCR, as per the government’s announcement.[i]

However, this facility is also planned to close on 31-12-2020, according to the Ministry’s announcement,[ii] and there is no prospect of creating or preserving a proper reception facility for the most vulnerable. On the contrary, Greek and European authorities are assessing the possibility to create a new closed/controlled center in the middle of nowhere that will inter alia further hinder asylum seekers’ and refugees’ access to crucial services, such as healthcare, while further marginalizing and stigmatizing them, through their isolation them from the local community.

PIKPA’s spirit of solidarity should instead prevail: for the sake of the people that the shelter has welcomed over the years, for the sake of the local population that has for years hosted thousands or even millions of people, for the sake of dignity and humanity.

We call on the Greek authorities to:

– Respect the people hosted in PIKPA and provide them with dignified reception conditions, in line with EU law, along with protection of the most vulnerable among them;

– Preserve the old Kara Tepe facility, where the special needs of vulnerable persons can be catered for and respected;

– Refrain from creating a closed reception center that will lead to even more pain to persons in a situation of vulnerability;

– Respect the right of all people to organize and seek the help of civil society organizations and support initiatives, and especially those, such as LESVOS Solidarity, that are based on the spirit of solidarity and volunteerism.

Signatories

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

ANTIGONE – INFORMATION AND DOCUMENTATION CENTRE ON RACISM, ECOLOGY, PEACE AND NON VIOLENCE

CENTRE DIOTIMA

ECHO100PLUS

ECOLOGICAL MOVEMENT OF THESSALONIKI 

FENIX- HUMANITARIAN LEGAL AID

GREEK COUNCIL FOR REFUGEES (GCR)

GREEK FORUM OF REFUGEES (GFR)

GREEK FORUM OF MIGRANTS

GREEK HOUSING NETWORK 

HELLENIC LEAGUE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

HELP REFUGEES/ CHOOSE LOVE 

HIAS GREECE

HUMANRIGHTS360

INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE

INTERSOS HELLAS

INTERVOLVE

LEGAL CENTRE LESVOS

LESVOS SOLIDARITY

MOBILE INFO TEAM

NETWORK FOR CHILDREN’S RIGHTS

ODYSSEA

OXFAM

REFUGEE RIGHTS EUROPE (RRE)

SAFE PLACE GREECE

SOLIDARITYNOW

SYMBIOSIS-SCHOOL OF POLITICAL STUDIES IN GREECE


Σεβαστείτε το  πνεύμα αλληλεγγύης του ΠΙΚΠΑ. Σεβαστείτε την ανθρωπιά και την αξιοπρέπεια

Μια δομή που αποτελεί εδώ και χρόνια σύμβολο ανθρωπιάς και αλληλεγγύης αναγκάζεται να κλείσει σήμερα.

Οι αστυνομικές δυνάμεις εκκενώνουν το ΠΙΚΠΑ στη Λέσβο, μια δομή που φιλοξένησε χιλιάδες ευάλωτους αιτούντες άσυλο και πρόσφυγες από το 2012. Το κάνουν χωρίς προηγούμενη ειδοποίηση, την ίδια ημέρα που το Ευρωπαϊκό Δικαστήριο Ανθρωπίνων Δικαιωμάτων επρόκειτο να αποφανθεί επί των αιτήσεων ασφαλιστικών μέτρων δύο ευάλωτων υποθέσεων που είχαν ζητήσει την αναστολή της απομάκρυνσής τους. Το κάνουν, παρά το γεγονός ότι, καθ ‘όλη τη διάρκεια της λειτουργίας του, το ΠΙΚΠΑ παρείχε αξιοπρεπείς συνθήκες διαβίωσης στους  φιλοξενούμενους, σε πλήρη αντίθεση με τις εγκαταστάσεις υποδοχής που διαχειρίζεται το κράτος.

Η μαζική αντίδραση στην πρόθεση της ελληνικής κυβέρνησης να μετακινήσει τα άτομα που φιλοξενούνται στο καταφύγιο, τουλάχιστον, τους έσωσε από το να πρέπει να μετακινηθούν σε απαράδεκτες συνθήκες, όπως αυτές που επικρατούν στο νέο καταυλισμό Καρά Τεπέ (που σωστά περιγράφεται ως 2η Μόρια). Αντ ‘αυτού θα μεταφερθούν στο παλιό Καρά Τεπέ, το οποίο διαχειρίζεται ο Δήμος με την υποστήριξη της Ύπατης Αρμοστείας του ΟΗΕ για τους Πρόσφυγες, σύμφωνα με ανακοίνωση της κυβέρνησης.[i]

Ωστόσο, αυτή η εγκατάσταση έχει επίσης προγραμματιστεί να κλείσει στις 31-12-2020, σύμφωνα με την ανακοίνωση του Υπουργείου,[ii] και δεν υπάρχει προοπτική δημιουργίας ή διατήρησης κατάλληλης δομής για τους πιο ευάλωτους. Αντίθετα, οι ελληνικές και ευρωπαϊκές αρχές αξιολογούν τη δυνατότητα δημιουργίας ενός νέου κλειστού / ελεγχόμενου κέντρου στη μέση του πουθενά που, μεταξύ άλλων, θα περιορίσει περαιτέρω την πρόσβαση των προσφύγων και αιτούντων άσυλο σε απαραίτητες υπηρεσίες, όπως οι υπηρεσίες υγειονομικής περίθαλψη, περιθωριοποιώντας και στιγματίζοντάς τους περαιτέρω, μέσω της απομόνωσής τους από την τοπική κοινότητα.

Το πνεύμα αλληλεγγύης του ΠΙΚΠΑ πρέπει να υπερισχύσει: για χάρη των ανθρώπων που φιλοξενήθηκαν στη δομή ανά τα χρόνια, για χάρη του τοπικού πληθυσμού που εδώ και χρόνια φιλοξενεί χιλιάδες ή και εκατομμύρια ανθρώπους, για χάρη της αξιοπρέπειας και της ανθρωπιάς.

Καλούμε τις ελληνικές αρχές:

– Να σεβαστούν τους ανθρώπους που φιλοξενούνται στο ΠΙΚΠΑ, παρέχοντάς τους κατάλληλες συνθήκες και προστατεύοντας, παράλληλα, του πιο ευάλωτους μεταξύ τους, σε συμφωνία με το ενωσιακό δίκαιο

– Να διατηρήσουν την παλιά δομή του Καρά Τεπέ, όπου μπορεί να υπάρξει μέριμνα και σεβασμός για τις ειδικές ανάγκες των ευάλωτων ατόμων

– Να απέχουν από τη δημιουργία ενός κλειστού κέντρου υποδοχής που θα δημιουργήσει ακόμη περισσότερο πόνο σε ανθρώπους που είναι σε ευάλωτη κατάσταση

– Να σεβαστούν το δικαίωμα όλων των ανθρώπων να οργανώνονται και να αναζητούν τη βοήθεια οργανώσεων και πρωτοβουλιών της κοινωνίας των πολιτών και ιδίως αυτών όπως η Αλληλεγγύη Λέσβου, που βασίζονται στο πνεύμα της αλληλεγγύης και του εθελοντισμού.

Υπογράφουν

ΑΛΛΗΛΕΓΓΥΗ ΛΕΣΒΟΥ

ΑΝΤΙΓΟΝΗ – ΚΕΝΤΡΟ ΠΛΗΡΟΦΟΡΗΣΗΣ ΚΑΙ ΤΕΚΜΗΡΙΩΣΗΣ ΓΙΑ ΤΟ ΡΑΤΣΙΣΜΟ, ΤΗΝ ΟΙΚΟΛΟΓΙΑ, ΤΗΝ ΕΙΡΗΝΗ ΚΑΙ ΤΗ ΜΗ ΒΙΑ

ΔΙΕΘΝΗΣ ΑΜΝΗΣΤΙΑ

ΔΙΚΤΥΟ ΓΙΑ ΤΑ ΔΙΚΑΙΩΜΑΤΑ ΤΟΥ ΠΑΙΔΙΟΥ 

ECHO100PLUS

ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΗ ΕΝΩΣΗ ΓΙΑ ΤΑ ΔΙΚΑΙΩΑΜΑΤΑ ΤΟΥ ΑΝΘΡΩΠΟΥ (ΕλΕΔΑ)

ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΟ ΔΙΚΤΥΟ ΓΙΑ ΤΟ ΔΙΚΑΙΩΜΑ ΣΤΗ ΣΤΕΓΗ ΚΑΙ ΤΗΝ ΚΑΤΟΙΚΙΑ

ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΟ ΣΥΜΒΟΥΛΙΟ ΓΙΑ τους ΠΡΟΣΦΥΓΕΣ (ΕΣΠ)

ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΟ ΦΟΡΟΥΜ ΜΕΤΑΝΑΣΤΩΝ

ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΟ ΦΟΡΟΥΜ ΠΡΟΣΦΥΓΩΝ

INTERVOLVE

INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE

INTERSOS HELLAS

ΚΕΝΤΡΟ ΔΙΟΤΙΜΑ

LEGAL CENTRE LESVOS

MOBILE INFO TEAM

ODYSSEA

ΟΙΚΟΛΟΓΙΚΉ ΚΊΝΗΣΗ ΘΕΣΣΑΛΟΝΊΚΗΣ

OXFAM

REFUGEE RIGHTS EUROPE (RRE)

SAFE PLACE GREECE

SOLIDARITYNOW

ΣΥΜΒΙΩΣΗ – ΣΧΟΛΗ ΠΟΛΙΤΙΚΩΝ ΣΠΟΥΔΩΝ ΣΤΗΝ ΕΛΛΑΔΑ

FENIX- HUMANITARIAN LEGAL AID

HELP REFUGEES/ CHOOSE LOVE 

HIAS ΕΛΛΑΔΟΣ

HUMANRIGHTS360


[i] https://migration.gov.gr/klisimo-domis-pikpa-lesvos/

[ii] https://www.ethnos.gr/ellada/125361_lesbos-kleinoyn-dyo-domes-prosfygon

PROTECT DIGNITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS: CALL FOR SOLIDARITY GATHERING IN SUPPORT OF PIKPA, 14/10/2020

Photograph by Paul McNeill (@pauldmcneill)

Ας προστατεύσουμε την ανθρωπιά και τα ανθρώπινα δικαιώματα: Κάλεσμα σε συγκέντρωση αλληλεγγύης προς το ΠΙΚΠΑ την Τετάρτη, 14 Οκτωβρίου 2020.

(ENGLISH & SIGNATORIES BELOW) Η ελληνική κυβέρνηση ετοιμάζεται να κλείσει ένα ιστορικό καταφύγιο για ευάλωτους αιτούντες άσυλο και πρόσφυγες, χωρίς καμία φροντίδα για το μέλλον των φιλοξενούμενων της. Ο Γενικός Γραμματέας Κοινωνικής Αλληλεγγύης και Καταπολέμησης της Φτώχειας του Υπουργείου Εργασίας και Κοινωνικών Υποθέσεων ζήτησε από την αστυνομία να εκκενώσει το χώρο του ΠΙΚΠΑ, στη Νεάπολη της Μυτιλήνης, έως τις 15-10-2020.

Το ΠΙΚΠΑ δεν χρειάζεται συστάσεις, άρχισε τη λειτουργία του το 2012 ως η μόνη ανοιχτή δομή υποδοχής προσφύγων του νησιού, σε πλήρη αντίθεση με τον καταυλισμό της Μόριας, ο οποίος τότε λειτουργούσε ως κλειστό Κέντρο Κράτησης. Για χρόνια, φορείς της κοινωνίας των πολιτών εντός και εκτός των συνόρων συνέρρεαν στο ΠΙΚΠΑ για να προσφέρουν υποστήριξη σε ευάλωτους ανθρώπους στο νησί, μεταξύ αυτών η Αλληλεγγύη Λέσβου που ιδρύθηκε το 2016. Όπως επισημαίνεται και σε πρόσφατη ανακοίνωση της Ύπατης Αρμοστείας του ΟΗΕ για τους Πρόσφυγες για την υποστήριξη του ΠΙΚΠΑ,[1]  η Έφη Λατσούδη, μια εκ των ιδρυτικών μελών του ΠΙΚΠΑ, έλαβε το βραβείο Nansen της Υ.Α. ΟΗΕ για τους Πρόσφυγες, στη Γενεύη, το 2016.

Σήμερα, το ΠΙΚΠΑ φιλοξενεί 94 εξαιρετικά ευάλωτα άτομα (ασυνόδευτα παιδιά, θύματα βασανιστηρίων, άτομα με σοβαρές κινητικές δυσκολίες και σοβαρά ιατρικά προβλήματα). Η παραπομπή τους στη δομή αυτή πραγματοποιήθηκε από  τις αρμόδιες κρατικές αρχές (τα ασυνόδευτα παιδιά από την Εισαγγελία, οι υπόλοιπες περιπτώσεις από  την Υπηρεσία Υποδοχής του Υπουργείου Μετανάστευσης και Ασύλου, σε συνεργασία με την Υ.Α. ΟΗΕ για τους Πρόσφυγες).

Ο χαρακτηρισμός της εγκατάστασης ως δομής που «έχει καταληφθεί παρανόμως», όπως αναφέρεται στην επιστολή που εστάλη από το Υπουργείο Εργασίας και Κοινωνικών Υποθέσεων για την εκκένωση της δομής,[2] δεν έχει καμία βάση.

Δεν πέρασε ένας μήνας από τις πυρκαγιές στον καταυλισμό της Μόριας, που για άλλη μια φορά ανέδειξαν τις άθλιες συνθήκες υπό τις οποίες φιλοξενούνται οι αιτούντες άσυλο στα ελληνικά νησιά, και η πρώτη βροχή κατέδειξε την πλήρη ανεπάρκεια της νέας προσωρινής εγκατάστασης, όπου μεταφέρθηκαν οι εκτοπισμένοι αιτούντες άσυλο και πρόσφυγες. Δεδομένων αυτών των συνθηκών αλλά και της  πανδημίας COVID-19, το κλείσιμο μιας από τις πιο αξιοπρεπείς για την ανθρώπινη διαβίωση εγκαταστάσεις στην Ελλάδα και δη στα ελληνικά νησιά, μοιάζει να στερείται λογικής και ανθρωπιάς και έρχεται σε κατάφωρη αντίθεση με το καθήκον της Ελλάδας και της ΕΕ να παρέχει κατάλληλες συνθήκες υποδοχής στους αιτούντες άσυλο, ιδιαίτερα στους πιο ευάλωτους.

Σε αλληλεγγύη προς τους πρόσφυγες και τις οργανώσεις που προσπαθούν να τους βοηθήσουν ακόμη και κάτω από τις πλέον αντίξοες συνθήκες, όπως αυτές που χαρακτηρίζουν τους καταυλισμούς των ελληνικών νησιών, καλούμε τις ελληνικές αρχές να αναθεωρήσουν την εντολή εκκένωσης του ΠΙΚΠΑ.

Την Τετάρτη, 14-10-2020, θα είμαστε στο πλευρό του ΠΙΚΠΑ για την υπεράσπιση της ανθρωπιάς και της αξιοπρέπειας που όλοι δικαιούνται. Καλούμε όλους όσοι υποστηρίζουν την ανθρωπιά και την αξιοπρέπεια να έρθουν μαζί μας την Τετάρτη, 14 Οκτωβρίου στις 10:00 π.μ.*, σε ένδειξη αλληλεγγύης στη δομή ΠΙΚΠΑ.

* Σεβόμαστε τα υγειονομικά μέτρα και τους πλέον ευάλωτους συνανθρώπους μας. Φοράμε μάσκες και τηρούμε τις προβλεπόμενες αποστάσεις.


[1] https://www.unhcr.org/gr/16647-month-moria-fires-unhcr-warns-worsening-conditions-ahead-winter.html

[2] https://stonisi.gr/post/11720/ekkenwste-to-pikpa-ews-tis-15-oktwvrioy


The Greek government is about to close a historic shelter for vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees, with no care for the future of its residents. The Secretary General of Social Solidarity and Poverty Alleviation of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs asked the Police to evacuate the PIKPA Shelter in Neapoli Mytilene before 15-10-2020.

PIKPA shelter is a well-known facility operating since 2012. At the time, it was the only open reception facility on the island, in stark contrast to Moria camp, which operated as a Detention Centre.  For years, many actors have come together at the PIKPA shelter to support some of the most vulnerable people in the island, including Lesvos Solidarity, founded in 2016. As also highlighted in UNHCR’s recent announcement in support of PIKPA,[1] Efi Latsoudi, one of the founders, was awarded the UNHCR Nansen Award in Geneva, in 2016.

PIKPA currently hosts 94 highly vulnerable persons (unaccompanied minors, victims of torture, severely handicapped persons, persons with serious illnesses) who have been referred there for accommodation by the competent state authorities (Public Prosecutor for the unaccompanied minors and Reception and Identification Service in collaboration with UNHCR for the rest of the cases).

Characterising PIKPA an “illegally squatted” facility, as was done by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in the letter calling for the facility’s evacuation,[2] lacks any grounding.

One month after the fire in Moria, which once more accentuated the squalid conditions under which asylum seekers are hosted on the Greek islands, the first rain proved the inadequacy of the temporary facility in which Moria’s displaced asylum seekers and refugees were transferred to. Particularly amid these circumstances and the COVID-19 pandemic, the evacuation of one of the most humane facilities in Greece and particularly the Greek islands seems to lack reasoning and humaneness and is directly at odds with Greece and the EU’s obligation to respect human rights and provide proper reception conditions to asylum seekers, particularly the most vulnerable.

In solidarity with refugees and the organizations that strive to assist them even under the most deplorable conditions, especially on the Greek islands, we call on the Greek authorities to reconsider the order to evacuate PIKPA.

On Wednesday, 14-10-2020, we will stand by Pikpa in defense of the humanity and dignity that everyone deserves. We call on everyone supporting humanity and dignity to join us in solidarity at PIKPA camp on Wednesday 14 October at 10:00am.*

*We respect hygiene measures and those most vulnerable amongst us. We wear a mask and keep social distancing measures.

Signatories

ANTIGONE – Information and Documentation Centre on Racism, Ecology, Peace and Non Violence

Changemakers Lab

CRWI Diotima

Ecological Movement of Thessaloniki

Europe Must Act

Fenix – Humanitarian Legal Aid

Greek Council for Refugees (GCR)

Greek Forum of Migrants

Greek Housing Network 

Hellenic League for Human Rights (HlHR)

Help Refugees/Choose Love

HIAS Ελλάδος

HumanRights360

INTERSOS Hellas

InterVolve

Legal Centre Lesvos

Médecins Sans Frontières (MsF)

METAdrasi

Mobile Info Team

Network for Children’s Rights

Odyssea 

SolidarityNow

Symbiosis-School of Political Studies in Greece 

Terre des hommes Hellas 


[1] https://www.unhcr.org/gr/16647-month-moria-fires-unhcr-warns-worsening-conditions-ahead-winter.html

[2] https://stonisi.gr/post/11720/ekkenwste-to-pikpa-ews-tis-15-oktwvrioy

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS DEMAND THAT GREECE INVESTIGATE PUSHBACKS AND VIOLENCE AT ITS BORDERS

© 2020 Turkish Coast Guard

(Athens) – Members of Greece’s parliament should urgently establish an inquiry into all allegations of unlawful returns of migrants to Turkey by law enforcement officers and others, 29 human rights and humanitarian aid organizations said in an open letter released today. These returns are carried out mainly through pushbacks and collective expulsions and are often accompanied by violence.

Parliament should exercise its oversight authority to investigate the allegations of these illegal acts by state agents and proxies on Greece’s sea and land borders with Turkey. The parliament’s inquiry should examine whether any illegal acts identified are part of a de facto government policy at odds with international, European, and Greek law.

Over the years, nongovernmental groups and media outlets have consistently reported the unlawful return, including through pushbacks, of groups and individuals from Greece to Turkey by Greek law enforcement officers or unidentified masked men, who appear to be working in tandem with border enforcement officials.

Reports from 2020 recorded multiple incidents in which Greek Coast Guard personnel, sometimes accompanied by armed masked men in dark clothing, unlawfully abandoned migrants – including those who had reached Greek territory. They abandoned the migrants at sea, on inflatable vessels without motors; towed migrant boats to Turkish waters; or intercepted, attacked, and disabled boats carrying migrants.

Nongovernmental organizations and the media have also reported persistent allegations that Greek border guards have engaged in collective expulsions and pushbacks of asylum seekers through the Evros land border with Turkey.

On June 10, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it was “closely monitoring” the situation at the Greek border and reported receiving “persistent reports” of migrants being arbitrarily arrested in Greece and pushed back to Turkey. The IOM said that Greece should investigate.

On August 21, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was “deeply concerned by an increasing number of credible reports indicating that men, women, and children may have been informally returned to Turkey immediately after reaching Greek soil or territorial waters in recent months,” and urged Greece to refrain from such practices and to seriously investigate these reports. The agency had released a statement making similar calls on June 12.

On July 6, during a debate at the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on fundamental rights at the Greek border, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said those incidents should be investigated. In its new Pact on Migration and Asylum, presented on September 23, the European Commission recommended to member states to set up an independent monitoring mechanism, amid increased allegations of abuse at the EU’s external borders. But no such system has been instituted.

Confronted during a CNN interview with an August 14  New York Times article documenting pushbacks, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: “It has not happened. We’ve been the victims of a significant misinformation campaign,” suggesting instead that Turkey was responsible.

Greek lawmakers should conduct a prompt, effective, transparent, and impartial investigation into allegations that Greek Coast Guard, Greek police, and Greek army personnel, sometimes in close coordination with uniformed masked men, have been involved in acts that not only violate the law but put the lives and safety of displaced people at risk.

Any officer found to have engaged in such illegal acts, as well as their commanding officers and officials who have command responsibility over such forces, should be subject to disciplinary and criminal sanctions, as applicable. The investigation should seek to establish the identity and relationship of the masked men and other unidentified officers to law enforcement and take steps to hold them to account. The investigation should cover events surfaced in 2019 and 2020, the groups said.

The following quotes may be attributed to members of the groups involved:

“Despite government denials, over the years many witnesses and victims have told us about pushbacks from land and sea that put migrants’ lives at risk,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Parliament should step up now and do all it can to put an end to this life-threatening practice.”

“The continued failure to address the serious allegations of pushbacks and violence against people on the move at Greece’s borders can no longer be tolerated,” said Adriana Tidona, migration researcher at Amnesty International. “We call on the Greek parliament to exercise its powers in the interest of all those who have been harmed by these actions and to ensure that there is no repetition.”

“Over the years, we have filed a score of complaints about or related to pushbacks at Greece’s borders, including deaths, that Greek prosecutors seem to ignore,” said Panayote Dimitras, spokesperson for the Greek Helsinki Monitor. “Greece needs to act quickly to set up an independent border monitoring mechanism to investigate violations, as proposed by the European Commission, and end these abuses once and for all.”  

“The right to seek asylum must be upheld at all times,” said Josie Naughton, chief executive officer of Help Refugees. “The Greek parliament should urgently conduct an inquiry to examine the well-documented and illegal practices of pushbacks and mass expulsion, which endanger the lives of men, women, and children seeking asylum in Greece.”

“We have documented the pushback of more than 1,150 asylum seekers from Greek territory in the past three months alone,” said Natalie Gruber, spokesperson for Josoor. “These are not isolated incidents but systematic violations of national, EU, and international law that the parliament cannot shrug off as fake news anymore.”

“Greek authorities are systematically expelling migrants, including those who have reached Greek territory, and abandoning them in open water,” said Amelia Cooper from Legal Centre Lesvos. “The Greek parliament should not only open an investigation of these events, but must also decree and enforce – immediately – the cessation of illegal collective expulsions at all Greek borders.”

“In order to break with the current failures to hold member states like Greece accountable for their pushbacks and rights violations at borders, the European Commission must step up its efforts and quickly put in place an appropriate monitoring mechanism,” said Marta Welander, executive director at Refugee Rights Europe. “Such efforts must also involve civil society, NGOs, and national human rights institutions to ensure that available evidence is taken seriously and leads to timely investigation and redress.”

“The protection of the borders, of vital importance in itself, can be in compliance with international law and human rights standards,” said Antigone Lyberaki, SolidarityNow’s general manager. “The Greek parliament has both the means and a constitutional obligation to oversee and investigate the alleged infringement of international human rights obligations by the Greek state.”

“As a child protection organization, Tdh Hellas is particularly worried about the fact that among those reported to have been violently expelled across EU borders are children, including babies,” said Melina Spathari of Terre des hommes Hellas. “The Greek government should stop such acts and try instead to address the chronic gaps in the reception and protection system for families and unaccompanied children.”

Signatories:

Human Rights Watch

ActionAid Hellas

Amnesty International

ARSIS – Association for the Social Support of Youth

Danish Refugee Council

Equal Rights Beyond Borders

Fenix – Humanitarian Legal Aid

Greek Council for Refugees

Greek Forum of Refugees

Greek Helsinki Monitor

Hellenic League for Human Rights

Help Refugees

HIAS Greece

HumanRights360

International Rescue Committee

INTERSOS Hellas

Josoor

Legal Centre Lesvos

Lesvos Solidarity

Medecins Du Monde – Greece

Mobile Info Team

Network for Children’s Rights

PRAKSIS

Refugee Legal Support

Refugee Rights Europe

Refugees International

Refugee Support Aegean

SolidarityNow

Terre des hommes Hellas

FIRE DESTROYS MUCH OF MORIA CAMP, FOLLOWING FOUR YEARS’ EUROPEAN TOLERANCE OF FATAL RISKS TO MIGRANTS

Photo credit: Yousif Al Shewaili (@yousif_alshewaili)

 In the early hours of this morning, a large fire broke out in Moria Refugee Camp, which has left much of the camp destroyed, and many of the approximately 13, 000 residents displaced.

This comes a week after the first person tested positive for COVID-19 in the camp, which was immediately followed by the government’s official initiation of works to transform Moria refugee camp to a closed controlled centre. In the days that followed, at least 30 other people have tested positive for COVID-19 – in a camp that is currently at four times’ its stated capacity, where basic preventative measures are a practical impossibility and where there was no functioning COVID-19 isolation clinic.

The dehumanisation of migrants at the European border and apparent indifference to the impact of this protracted, unsustainable situation on the local population have had repeatedly devastating consequences. Migrants have been consistently confined to overcrowded, insecure and fundamentally inhuman conditions, where fires – often fatal – are a regular occurrence. This was not the first fire in Moria camp; it was not even the first fire in the camp this year. Such fatal risks to – and loss of – migrant lives are instead tolerated as part of the European border regime.

Following the near destruction of Moria Camp, this morning the Greek government placed the island of Lesvos under a four month state of emergency. The police and army have been on the streets around Moria camp since the fire broke out, and three riot police squads (known as the Units for the Reinstatement of Order) were flown in from Athens this morning. As far as we know, no additional medical capacity or humanitarian aid has been mobilised or provided. The government’s immediate dispatch of security forces, before or without humanitarian assistance, continues their policy of framing migrants as a question of public order – and prioritising their securitisation as opposed to the provision of urgent assistance.

The Greek authorities’ main priority so far seems to be the prevention of migrants’ access to Mytiline: a police blockade was established next to Kara Tepe camp in the early hours of this morning, to prevent migrants who had fled the fire from reaching the city, and it remains there to this point. Police units have also blocked the main access road to Moria camp. People who had been living in the camp are spread out on the roads around Moria camp, in the surrounding forests, and in the car park of a nearby supermarket. From what migrants have told us, there have been no state provisions – whether of essentials such as food or water, or other necessities such as hygiene facilities – in those locations.

There has never been an evacuation plan for Moria Camp residents, and when the fire broke out last night, people were left to flee on their own – including those who had been held in the pre-removal detention centre inside Moria Camp (PRO.KE.KA.). Some of those living in the sections for vulnerable people (including unaccompanied children and single women) were woken up by police, but given no instruction of where they could or should go. At present, there remains a profound lack of information regarding the safeguarding or protection response for such groups. When we spoke with vulnerable individuals supported by Legal Centre Lesvos in the early hours of this morning, they were scattered in the forests and roads surrounding the camp, without any state support.

There is still no official confirmation of casualties, or even hospitalisations.

Those who have returned to Moria camp this morning have sent photos of the destroyed camp, including the remains of their tents and shelters. Residents have emphasised that the many of the facilities – including toilets and sanitation spaces – have been burnt. The already-inadequate provisions to prevent or slow the spread of COVID-19 among the camp’s population have now been destroyed, and given that over thirty residents of the camp have tested positive for the virus in recent days, a failure to implement a rapid and health-oriented response for displaced residents will no doubt increase the number of cases – and will likely overwhelm the stretched public healthcare system.

“This fire is a visceral manifestation of European policies, which have for years tolerated the containment of migrants in dangerous, overcrowded and insecure conditions,” said Amelia Cooper, of the Legal Centre Lesvos. “Repeated fatal incidents – including the death of a seven-year-old child in a fire in Moria camp, just six months ago – have not been enough to prompt the evacuation of Moria refugee camp; neither has been the outbreak of a global pandemic, nor the detection of positive cases, nor the Greek government’s instrumentalisation of these facts to impose mass detention on camp residents. Residents of Moria camp, and migrants in hotspots across Europe, are in situations of manufactured and state-sanctioned vulnerability. This fire was not an accident, it was an inevitability.”

Please note: This statement was prepared at 14.45 on 09/09/2020.

For further information please contact: Amelia Cooper, amelia@legalcentrelesvos.org

CONFIRMATION OF COVID-19 IN MORIA CAMP LEADS TO IMMEDIATE TRANSFORMATION TO A CLOSED CENTRE, FOLLOWING FIVE MONTHS OF DELIBERATE FAILURE OF EUROPEAN MEMBER STATES TO RESPOND TO FORESEEABLE AND PREVENTABLE DISASTER

Photo credit: Yousif Al Shewaili (@yousif_alshewaili)

Greek authorities yesterday announced the total lockdown of Moria refugee camp, with entry and exit explicitly prohibited for the next 14 days for all those other than security personnel, after the first person has tested positive for COVID-19 in the camp. This follows over five months of effective lockdown of Moria Camp, where only a limited number of people were granted permission to leave the camp each day, for specific and authorized reasons. This move is directly contrary to UNHCR’s global call to release asylum seekers from arbitrary detention amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Minister of Migration has used this opportunity to confirm the government’s plans to transition Moria refugee camp to a closed controlled centre, and yesterday, a contract was signed between the Ministry of Migration and Asylum and AKTOR, the construction branch of multinational company ELLAKTOR Group  – worth almost a million euros – to initiate preparatory work. The Minister stated that the closure of the camp is an “ongoing process” that will “enhance the feeling – not only health, but security – both of the residents and the local communities.” 

These announcements follow the forced closure of Medecins Sans Frontieres COVID-19 isolation unit, adjacent to Moria camp, despite multiple warnings of the devastating risks that this would pose to residents’ health. A clinic, managed by the Greek state and funded by the Dutch government, was subsequently inaugurated in Moria refugee camp by the President of the Hellenic Republic, the Minister of Migration, and the Dutch ambassador – but two weeks have since passed, and it is yet to be operative.

COVID-19 RELOCATION PLEDGES HIGHLIGHT SYSTEMIC ISSUES 

Earlier this year, as news of the COVID-19 pandemic spread, European-wide campaigns called on Greece and Member States to evacuate the refugee camps in Greece, due to their unpreparedness to respond to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Several European Union Member States made limited offers to relocate vulnerable individuals from the Aegean hotspots or to make arrangements for the timely transfer of those with accepted family reunification cases. Such declarations, while ostensibly benevolent, cast light on systemic issues: the hostility of European states to migration from the Global south, and the lack of robust and fair relocation programmes, including of those individuals eligible for reunification with their family members. 

The introduction of the “hotspot approach” in 2015, and the codification in Greek law of the EU-Turkey Statement in 2016, which underpinned the creation of Moria refugee camp and other sites across the Aegean islands, was presented alongside two initiatives: first, an encouragement from the European Commission to Member States to show their solidarity with countries of first arrival, including by offering relocation spaces; and second, a mandatory relocation scheme, that would allow some 160, 000 people to relocate to second European Member States. The aforementioned solidarity never materialised, while the relocation effort itself stuttered to a halt in 2017, after less than a fifth of the intended number of people were able to relocate

Since then, ad hoc relocation initiatives have been instrumentalized to boost Member States’ public relations, while those same States quietly refuse any regional responsibility-sharing mechanism and rely on a restrictive and bad-faith implementation of the European family reunification framework (as established by EU Regulation 604/2013, the “Dublin Regulation”) to deny people their right to join family members elsewhere on the continent. 

EU MEMBER STATES’ BAD FAITH APPLICATION OF EU LAW CONTINUES TO DENY FAMILY UNITY

During the lockdown of refugee camps across Greece, the Dublin Unit did not extend deadlines for the submission or reconsideration of family reunification applications. Requests submitted outside of the deadline are often rejected out of hand, without consideration of the merits or extenuating factors; for example, the failure to meet deadlines is not only due to the pandemic and subsequent lockdown of the camps, but often also due to the non-provision of legal aid for Applicants, including unaccompanied minors. The burden of proof demanded often goes far beyond that which is required by law, often introducing additional delays (such as to obtain DNA evidence) to a process which ostensibly provides for the timely reunification of separated families. 

Furthermore, and despite the Dublin Regulation asserting that the best interests of the child (EU Reg. No. 604/2013, Recital 13) and respect for family life (ibid, Recital 14) should be primary considerations in its application, child asylum seekers are often denied the right to reunite with family members who arrived to Europe after them, despite the fact they have been granted legal status in the receiving Member State. Such was the case of A, a twelve-year-old boy from Afghanistan, who lives in state care in Germany. A’s mother, his sole carer since A’s birth, is an applicant for international protection in Greece, where she lives with A’s two older sisters. Their application to join him in Germany was rejected, due to the fact A’s status in Germany is not considered as a grant of international protection. It is important to note that, were their roles reversed – and A’s mother held this form of protection in Germany, while A was alone in Greece – he would be entitled to reunify with her, owing simply to her legal presence in that State. 

In fact, Germany systematically flouts the substantive principles of the Dublin Regulation, and instead relies on the stringent application of deadlines and selective interpretation of technical requirements to deny the right to family reunification. German authorities issue the highest number of rejections to “take charge requests” sent from Greece, frequently ignoring the practical challenges faced by applicants to lodge their requests in a timely manner or to provide the stringent evidence required to demonstrate their family bonds. 

Across Europe, court decisions have further restricted the ability of family members to reunite . In Sweden, for example, the Supreme Migration Court ruled that the rejection of a request for family reunification made under Article 17.2 of the Dublin Regulation (which includes, inter alia, humanitarian and family considerations) cannot be appealed. 

In this challenging context, the Legal Centre Lesvos has represented over 50 families in the Dublin proceeding since the initiation of the lock-down in March. Many of those are still pending, but the cases of at least sixteen families – including those who had already received rejections on the above grounds – were approved in the last four months after the intervention of the Legal Centre. These acceptances have led, or will lead, to reunions in eight different Member States, and include:

  • H, an unaccompanied minor from Afghanistan, who was accepted for reunification with his older brother in Germany. During his time in Lesvos, H lived alone – like many unaccompanied minors – in the olive groves surrounding Moria refugee camp. While his case was initially rejected, the Legal Centre Lesvos’ request for re-examination and the provision of additional information (with the support of his relatives and their assistants in Germany) resulted in the ultimate acceptance of his case. H travelled earlier this month, and is now happily residing in Berlin;
  • S, a stateless member of the Bidun community from Kuwait, and her four minor children, will reunite with her husband – the children’s father – in England. S’s case was first rejected due to errors in her application, which she submitted without legal aid, and ensuing difficulties to trace her husband. A subsequent request was made under Article 17.2, which was again rejected – but, after taking her case at that point, a re-examination request sent by the Legal Centre Lesvos ultimately led to an acceptance. The family were delighted – however, S has since been waiting for over three months to travel to England; 
  • K, his wife F, their four minor children, and their adult daughter S, who will travel to Switzerland to join their minor son/brother. Given that S in an adult, her case had to be lodged separately under Article 17.2 – but we were delighted that she was accepted at first instance. The family have been living in Moria refugee camp since November last year: none of the children have accessed schools during that time, and F’s health is deteriorating. Despite the acceptance of their case three months ago, they are still awaiting news of their transfer. 

REUNIFICATION OR THE LOTTERY OF RELOCATION

In at least one case, a family denied reunification under the Dublin Regulation were subsequently reunited by a COVID-prompted relocation programme. J, a single mother living in Greece with her chronically ill minor son, applied for reunification with her minor daughter and son, who were living in Germany. In a situation reminiscent of A’s case described above, J and her son were rejected, as J’s children in Germany are not classed as beneficiaries of international protection. However, J later benefitted from a COVID-prompted relocation programme for vulnerable asylum seekers in Greece to travel to Germany – and has now travelled to the State. While a happy accident to say the least, the trauma that J and her son experienced while living in Moria refugee camp and the emotional distress of being rejected for family reunification with the minors in Germany will not be erased by her ultimate transfer to that state. J’s case instead demonstrates the restrictive praxis used by States to refuse their legal responsibilities towards asylum seekers – including vulnerable families – and the lottery that such limited relocation programmes introduce. 

Information surrounding the COVID-prompted relocation programmes has been scarce to say the least. There has been limited information about the implementation of each programme, no publication of the required criteria, and no opportunity granted to migrants themselves to sign up for such initiatives. 

The joint coordination of Member States’ offers to relocate unaccompanied children from the islands led to hundreds of best interests assessments conducted by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), the office typically charged with conducting asylum interviews. EASO staff had not been given adequate training in child-sensitive approaches to interviews, nor in child protection. Minors were not informed of whether their relocation was guaranteed, let alone given the choice to travel to States of their preference. In fact, in the midst of the programme, Germany withdrew its participation – and no efforts were made to inform children who had expressed their will to travel to Germany, often due to the presence of relatives in that state, of this withdrawal. 

Some minors have since been relocated to a number of European countries, but those who completed interviews and have not been transferred are unsure of whether their case has been effectively rejected. Moreover, children who were accepted for relocation to France were subsequently transferred to Athens, where asylum eligibility interviews were conducted in the French embassy. Those who were deemed provisionally eligible for asylum have since been transferred. 

Relocation programmes are typically framed as benevolent efforts, offering a safe route for the most vulnerable migrants to leave the Aegean hotspots. Yet the COVID-prompted relocation programmes have so far lacked transparency and had limited impact, instead feeding the narrative that only the most vulnerable migrants – and those pre-selected by State authorities – deserve to enter mainland Europe. 


EU COMPLICIT IN GREEK AUTHORITIES’ MOVE TO MASS DETENTION

It has been known, for months, that COVID-19 would reach Moria refugee camp. It has been widely documented that residents there (including hundreds of vulnerable people, who have not been evacuated) live in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions – as they have done for years – where basic preventative measures are a practical impossibility. It has become evident, particularly in recent weeks, that the Greek state’s hostility towards organisations operating in solidarity with migrants has further restricted residents’ already-limited access to healthcare. 

The response of European Member States, in light of this dire reality, has been abysmal – and unsurprisingly so. Member States are complicit in the systematic abuse of human rights at the European border, whether those violations manifest in Moria refugee camp, in the asylum procedure and associated family reunification mechanism, or in the deadly practice of the border itself. In the context of a global pandemic, Member States chose to push forward a limited relocation effort that serves their public image rather than engaging with these substantive issues. As the Greek authorities now openly instrumentalise the pandemic to pursue their pre-existing objective of expanded detention of asylum seekers, the silence from other Member States and European institutions is no longer just conspicuous – but expected. 

DESPITE THE DISCRIMINATORY LOCKDOWN ON CAMPS AND HOSTILITY TOWARDS MIGRANTS AND THOSE IN SOLIDARITY WITH THEM, RESISTANCE GROWS

Photograph by Yousif Al Shewaili, Mytiline, Greece, 14 July 2020.

In the past month, Greek authorities have extended the discriminatory lockdown on migrant camps for a seventh time, depriving residents of Moria and Kara Tepe refugee camps in Lesvos of respite outside the camps or access to basic services – and further paving the way towards closed camps, for which the European Commission has approved €130 million funding. Illegal collective expulsions continue in the Aegean, while new arrivals are quarantined with little access to legal support or other services, and then hurried through the hostile border procedure. The ongoing harassment of non-governmental organisations continues, and administrative fines combined with the threat of criminal charges has forced Médecins Sans Frontières’ COVID-19 isolation unit outside Moria refugee camp to close. Protests, organised across the political spectrum, have increased – while police violence against migrants, and particularly migrant-led protests, goes on. 

In essence, the Greek government – with the varying complicity or active support of European Union Member States – continues the violent assault on migrants, illegal and life-threatening expulsions, and the harassment of civil society organisations to further its fundamental goals: the detention, deportation and deterrence of migration from the global South to Europe. 

FROM LOCKDOWN TO DETENTION

The unlawful lockdown on migrant camps, described by MSF as “toxic,” “blatant discrimination,” and “absolutely unjustified from a public health point of view”, has been extended until 31 August – despite national movement restrictions ending some three months ago, and tourists, many coming from western European countries with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, being welcomed to Greece. The increased number of visitors has been linked to a rise in COVID-19 infections – and yet the lockdown continues to apply only to migrant camps, despite the fact that MSF and others have confirmed there is no public health justification for such measures. In Lesvos, in fact, no cases have been documented in Moria refugee camp. Such flagrant discrimination violates national, regional and international law, including Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. 

Migrants living in Moria and Kara Tepe refugee camps still require authorities’ permission to leave the sites. Permission, granted by the Reception and Identification Services, is given to just 120 people each day – less than 1% of the Moria refugee camp’s population – and for specified purposes (such as accessing medical support). Requests must be made the day before the individual wishes to leave camp. Same-day permissions can only be granted by the Hellenic Police, for individuals with urgent medical issues.

Those found outside without authorization face fines of €150, and there has been a notable increase in police street presence and discriminatory racial profiling and conducting such checks on migrants – including outside the Legal Centre Lesvos’ offices. Rather than serving any public health objective, the prolonged lockdown ensures two things: migrants’ isolation from support services, and their removal from public view. 

Moreover, the lockdown has exacerbated tensions in Moria refugee camp, where two people were fatally stabbed in July. There are currently over 17, 000 people living in and around the camp, including 6, 000 children, who – due to movement restrictions – are now deprived of any respite away from the site. The ongoing disregard for migrant lives – whether manifest in the inhumane, overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in the hotspots; authorities’ failure to intervene in fatal fights, or investigate arbitrary losses of life; or the inhibition of migrants’ access to adequate healthcare facilities – further demonstrates the insincerity of any attempt to justify ongoing restrictions to the camps by reference to COVID-19 prevention.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not only being instrumentalised to detain migrants, but it also appears that the continued prolongation of the lockdown is paving the way towards the Greek government’s long and publicly-held objective of creating closed centres for migrants. Conveniently, on 3 August the European Commission approved €130 million in funding for “closed controlled centres” that will be constructed in Samos, Leros and Kos. The first, in Samos, is expected to open in late September. 

QUARANTINE AND HOSTILE ASYLUM PROCEDURES 

There remains a profound lack of information regarding the conditions of quarantine camps in Northern Lesvos, where new arrivals are quarantined – ostensibly for fourteen days, and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – before being transferred to Moria refugee camp.

The quarantine camps have included at least four temporary sites on arrival beaches, where Mare Liberum report that ‘the authorities sometimes took several days to install tents and portable toilets.’ The practice of detaining people at unprepared sites adjacent to their arrival, documented in Lesvos since March, has consistently deprived new arrivals of the basic necessities for their safety and personal hygiene – again exposing the fallacy of the government’s COVID-19 response. Furthermore, many individuals have been detained in the Northern camps for over a month, without any justification. Not only does this result in unnecessary delays to the registration of their asylum claim, but it further isolates individuals and deprives them of access to legal support and other services around Mytiline and Moria refugee camp.

Several individuals have contacted Legal Centre Lesvos upon their release from quarantine, having been given a date for their personal asylum interview in just a matter of days. Under Article 12 of EU Directive 2013/32, the recast Asylum Procedures Directives (rAPD), Member States should guarantee that asylum seekers’ access to organisations providing legal aid is not inhibited – yet it is almost impossible for such new arrivals in Lesvos, who have been quarantined and are then subjected to an ongoing and discriminatory lockdown, to access such support. Denied the time or opportunity to prepare for their interviews, they are instead hurried through an accelerated, hostile and mismanaged asylum procedure. 

ONGOING HARASSMENT OF CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS WORKING WITH MIGRANTS

Following the Greek government’s administrative assault on civil society groups working with migrants earlier this year, which had the effect of de-registering or limiting the operations of several groups working with migrants in Lesvos, the harassment of non-governmental organisations working with migrants has taken a new and practical turn.

Pressure, including unannounced visits from government inspectors to several organisations, including the Legal Centre Lesvos, is rising. There has also been a regular police presence around the Legal Centre Lesvos’ offices, resulting in arrests of and fines issued to people seeking access to our services – and more broadly, intimidating clients and inhibiting them from accessing legal support, to which they have a right. The authorities’ imposition of over €35, 000 in fines and threatened criminal charges on MSF is a particularly egregious example of this harassment, and has forced the closure of the only COVID-19 isolation centre accessible to residents of Moria refugee camp. Should an outbreak happen in the camp, where simple prevention measures such as handwashing and social distancing remain inaccessible, the health infrastructure in Lesvos simply will not be able to cope. 

Last week, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants released a report, which condemns the global “toxic narrative” surrounding the work of organisations in solidarity with migrants, and notes authorities’ misuse of administrative, legislative and legal tactics to inhibit such organisations’ free operation – with dangerous results. 

“Where civil society organizations step back from provision of services to migrants because of fear of the legal consequences or harassment,” he wrote, the risks to migrants’ increase – and “criminal groups and traffickers step in.” The parallels to Lesvos, and the risks to migrants that this will pose, are evident. 

GROWING PROTESTS, ACROSS THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM, IN LESVOS

Following the lifting of movement restrictions for the general population, the last month has seen an increase of protests across the political spectrum, by locals and migrants alike.

On July 21st, between fifty and sixty far-right supporters gathered near the power station on the road between Mytiline and Moria refugee camp – a site that was frequently used for attacks earlier this year – after online posts blamed migrants for a large forest fire several kilometres away from the camp. The identities of some drivers passing the power stations were reportedly checked, though no formal roadblocks were established. 

On August 1st, a call was made by locals to gather in protest of the expansion of Moria refugee camp. Prior to the announced time of the gathering, police patrolled the road adjacent to the camp, instructing not only non-governmental organisations but also journalists to leave the area, in a clear violation of press freedom. Police buses ultimately blocked the protestors’ access to Moria refugee camp, and protestors dispersed after several hours.

POLICE VIOLENCE AGAINST MIGRANTS AND MIGRANT PROTESTORS 

Police have used excessive force to disperse migrant-led protests in Moria refugee camp and in Mytiline, which were organised in response to the fatal stabbing of a teenager from the Ivory Coast, and subsequently regarding the hostile asylum procedure and ongoing confinement of migrants to Lesvos. 

On July 6 and 7, the African community in Moria Camp organized protests in the aftermath of the killing of nineteen-year-old Karamoko Namori. Some 200 individuals gathered outside the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) in Moria camp, calling for safety and an end to their containment in Moria. EASO remained closed for some days, before police violently dispersed the protests, shooting volleys of tear gas, and sound and flash grenades into the crowd. At least two people had to be carried away from the protest, owing to their injuries. The mobilisation of such immense and violent resources to disperse protestors, following the police’s failure to act and prevent Karamoko’s death, thrust policing priorities in Lesvos into clear view once again. 

On July 14, approximately fifteen Syrian families and several Iraqis gathered in Mytiline in protest of the systematic rejection of Syrians’ applications for asylum (based on the untenable assumption that Turkey is a safe country for them) and the containment of migrants on Lesvos. The demonstration began in the ferry port of Mytiline, but police soon resorted to physical violence to forcibly remove protestors from the area. A video circulated that shows a police officer dragging and hitting a pregnant woman. The protestors then moved through Mytiline, and were intercepted by police at various locations; they were ultimately prevented from accessing the town’s main square, and corralled by at least fifteen riot police officers onto a waiting bus. 

Protestors were informed that their protest was shut down due to the lack of prior police permission (as required by a draconian bill passed by the Greek government in July 2020). However, given the sharp contrast between the police’s muted response to the aforementioned local gatherings – which took place undisturbed by references to the restrictions on protest – and the police’s violence and intimidation towards migrant protestors, it suggests that this new law will become a tool in the authorities’ arsenal of discrimination. 

One of the protestors, Z, summarised the event: “We went in protest of the recent decisions by the Greek government to reject Syrians’ asylum applications…The Greek police came and assaulted the men, and beat the women, and forcibly brought us back to [Moria] camp. We are Syrians – we have only one country, which is Syria. It is not safe there, and it is not safe to deport us to Turkey. We suffered a lot in Turkey, we lost our relatives and our children in Turkey, and because of that we came to Greece, asking for international protection. These were and still are our demands: we ask the European Union to save us from a slow death in Greece.

Οργανώσεις στην Ελλάδα αλλά και εθνικοί και διεθνείς φορείς υγείας προειδοποιούν: Οι διακρίσεις δεν προστατεύουν από τον COVID-19

Photograph by Yousif Al Shewaili, Moria Camp, Lesvos

[Click here for English]

Σε συνέχεια επιστολής που έστειλαν στις αρχές Ιουλίου στις ελληνικές αρχές, οι οργανώσεις που εργάζονται με πρόσφυγες και μετανάστες στην Ελλάδα εκφράζουν την ανησυχία και αντίθεση τους στην απόφαση της κυβέρνησης να επιβάλει για άλλη μια φορά μέτρα περιορισμού κυκλοφορίας σε όλες τις δομές φιλοξενίας αιτούντων άσυλο στην Ελλάδα, στο γενικότερο πλαίσιο της πρόληψης εμφάνισης και διασποράς κρουσμάτων του κορωνοϊού COVID-19.

Αν και οι περιορισμοί στην ελευθερία κίνησης με στόχο την προστασία της δημόσιας υγείας δύναται να είναι απαραίτητοι και δικαιολογημένοι, οι οργανώσεις υποστηρίζουν ότι θα πρέπει εντούτοις να βασίζονται σε επιστημονικές ενδείξεις, και να μην επιβάλλονται με αυθαίρετα κριτήρια που παραπέμπουν σε κοινωνικές διακρίσεις, δεδομένου ότι ο περιορισμός κυκλοφορίας έχει αρθεί για τους υπόλοιπους κατοίκους της χώρας. Σε κάθε περίπτωση, για την επιβολή περιορισμού της ελευθερίας της κίνησης στους κατοίκους των εν λόγω δομών φιλοξενίας, δεν μπορεί να γίνει επίκληση λόγων δημόσιας υγείας, καθώς κάτι τέτοιο δε θα εδραζόταν σε καμία επιστημονική βάση. Μάλιστα, σε κάποιες περιπτώσεις τα μέτρα παραβιάζουν την οδηγία της ΕΕ σχετικά με τις απαιτήσεις για την υποδοχή αιτούντων (2013/33, άρθρο 8 περί κράτησης).

Συγκεκριμένα, όπως έχει τονιστεί σε δηλώσεις ή οδηγίες από διεθνείς οργανισμούς, πανεπιστημιακούς φορείς και οργανώσεις της κοινωνίας των πολιτών -κάποιες εκ των οποίων παρατίθενται στο τέλος αυτής της ανακοίνωσης- δεν υπάρχει καμία ένδειξη ότι η απομόνωση ολόκληρων δομών φιλοξενίας ή η εφαρμογή περιοριστικών μέτρων στην κυκλοφορία επιδρούν αποτελεσματικά στη μετάδοση του ιού στις δομές φιλοξενίας αιτούντων άσυλο και μεταναστών, ή παρέχουν πρόσθετα προστατευτικά αποτελέσματα για το γενικό πληθυσμό, εκτός εκείνων που επιτυγχάνονται με συμβατικά μέτρα περιορισμού και προστασίας που ισχύουν καθολικά για όλον τον πληθυσμό. Ως εκ τούτου, μια ορθολογική στρατηγική για την πρόληψη και την προστασία του προσφυγικού πληθυσμού από την εξάπλωση του Covid-19 πρέπει να επικεντρώνεται στη βελτίωση των συνθηκών επισφαλούς στέγασης, εκείνων που καθιστούν αδύνατη την κοινωνική απόσταση (social distancing) στα υπερπληθή κέντρα φιλοξενίας. Έως σήμερα, ωστόσο, δεν έχουν υπάρξει επαρκείς κινήσεις σ’ αυτή την κατεύθυνση. Μάλιστα, πολλές οργανώσεις που εργάζονται σε κέντρα όπου έχουν εφαρμοστεί μέτρα περιορισμού της ελευθερίας της κίνησης, έχουν διαπιστώσει αυξημένη ψυχολογική πίεση και άγχος που δύνανται να οδηγούν στη γενικότερη επιδείνωση της υγείας των αιτούντων άσυλο. Επιπλέον, ο περιορισμός της κυκλοφορίας θέτει εμπόδια στην πρόσβαση των αιτούντων άσυλο σε υπηρεσίες ζωτικής σημασίας (ιατρικές, νομικές κ.λπ) που βρίσκονται έξω από τις δομές όπου διαμένουν.

Σύμφωνα με τους υπογράφοντες αυτή την ανακοίνωση, η κυβέρνηση θα πρέπει να αξιολογεί αυστηρά τις όποιες πολιτικές προστασίας δημόσιας υγείας υιοθετεί σύμφωνα με τις αρχές της αναγκαιότητας, αναλογικότητας και σεβασμού της αρχής της μη διάκρισης και να απέχει από τη μονιμοποίηση των προσωρινών μέτρων μέσω καταχρηστικής επίκλησης έκτακτων αναγκών. Επίσης, θα πρέπει να εφαρμόζονται μέτρα που πραγματικά διασφαλίζουν την υγεία του προσφυγικού πληθυσμού και κατά συνέπεια και του συνολικού πληθυσμού της χώρας, ήτοι:

  • Αποσυμφόρηση όλων των υπερπληθών δομών
  • Ορθή και ευέλικτη χρήση των διαθέσιμων από την ΕΕ κονδυλίων για βελτίωση των συνθηκών διαβίωσης με τη μέγιστη δυνατή διαφάνεια
  • Συμπερίληψη στην πρωτοβάθμια φροντίδα υγείας όλων των μεταναστευτικών ομάδων,-συμπεριλαμβανομένων των μη καταγεγραμμένων αιτούντων άσυλο και αυτών σε “λίμπο”.
  • Εξασφάλιση υπηρεσιών ύδρευσης, απολύμανσης, υγιεινής (WASH)
  • Διανομή ειδών προσωπικής υγιεινής
  • Παροχή εκτενούς και κατανοητής πληροφόρησης στις προσφυγικές κοινότητες.
  • Εκτενής ενημέρωση των πολιτών για θέματα δημόσιας υγείας, μάλιστα σε σχέση με τη φιλοξενία του μεταναστευτικού πληθυσμού.

Θα πρέπει να γίνει ευρύτερα κατανοητό πως δεν δύναται να υπάρξει δημόσια υγεία χωρίς την προστασία της υγείας προσφύγων και μεταναστών. Η δαιμονοποίηση του προσφυγικού πληθυσμού που παρατηρείται το τελευταίο διάστημα -μάλιστα τη στιγμή που θα έπρεπε να καταβάλλονται προσπάθειες για την ομαλή ένταξή τους στον κοινωνικό και εργασιακό ιστό της χώρας- δεν προασπίζει τα πραγματικά συμφέροντα των πολιτών και πλήττει ανεπανόρθωτα τις δημοκρατικές αρχές της χώρας.

Προς επίρρωση των ανωτέρω, έχουν επισημανθεί τα εξής:

Παγκόσμιος Οργανισμός Υγείας:

«Το δικαίωμα στην ετοιμότητα, την πρόληψη και τον έλεγχο του COVID-19 για πρόσφυγες και μετανάστες πρέπει να ασκείται μέσω ολοκληρωμένων νόμων και εθνικών πολιτικών και πρακτικών χωρίς διακρίσεις, με ιδιαίτερη μέριμνα στα παιδιά και σε θέματα φύλου. Οι συνθήκες υγείας που βιώνουν πρόσφυγες και μετανάστες, συμπεριλαμβανομένων εκείνων με COVID-19, δεν πρέπει να χρησιμοποιούνται ως δικαιολογία για την επιβολή αυθαίρετων περιορισμών, στιγματισμού, κράτησης, απέλασης και άλλων μορφών διακρίσεων». (Απόσπασμα από Προσωρινή Οδηγία, 17 Απριλίου 2020)

Ευρωπαϊκό Κέντρο Πρόληψης και Ελέγχου Νόσων:

«Ενώ δεν υπάρχουν στοιχεία που να δείχνουν ότι η μετάδοση SARS-CoV-2 είναι υψηλότερη μεταξύ των μεταναστών και προσφύγων, περιβαλλοντικοί παράγοντες, όπως ο υπερπληθυσμός σε κέντρα υποδοχής και κράτησης αυξάνουν την έκθεσή τους στην ασθένεια. Μπορεί επίσης να εξαπλωθούν κρούσματα σε κέντρα υποδοχής και κράτησης γρήγορα απουσία κατάλληλων μέτρων πρόληψης.»

Σε άλλο σημείο: «Δεν υπάρχουν ενδείξεις ότι η απομόνωση ολόκληρων καταυλισμών περιορίζει αποτελεσματικά τη μετάδοση του SARS-CoV-2 στα κέντρα υποδοχής και κράτησης, ή παρέχει πρόσθετες προστατευτικές εγγυήσεις για το γενικό πληθυσμό, εκτός εκείνων που θα μπορούσαν να επιτευχθούν με συμβατικό περιορισμό και προστατευτικά μέτρα. (Aποσπάσματα από Τεχνική Αναφορά, 15 Ιουνίου 2020)

Γιατροί Χωρίς Σύνορα

«Η παράταση του μέτρου για τον περιορισμό κυκλοφορίας των αιτούντων άσυλο που ζουν στα κέντρα υποδοχής θα μειώσει περαιτέρω την ήδη περιορισμένη πρόσβασή τους σε βασικές υπηρεσίες και ιατρική περίθαλψη και, στην τρέχουσα φάση της επιδημίας COVID-19, δεν δικαιολογείται σε καμία περίπτωση από άποψη δημόσιας υγείας. Μέχρι στιγμής, δεν υπάρχει επιβεβαιωμένο περιστατικό σε κανένα από τα κέντρα υποδοχής των νησιών, πράγμα που σημαίνει ότι αυτός ο πληθυσμός δεν αποτελεί κίνδυνο. Αντίθετα, διατρέχει κίνδυνο. Τέτοιου είδους διακρίσεις στιγματίζουν και περιθωριοποιούν τους πρόσφυγες, τους αιτούντες άσυλο και τους μετανάστες, δεν δικαιολογούνται από άποψη δημόσιας υγείας και αυξάνουν την ευαλωτότητα αυτού του πληθυσμού απέναντι στην επιδημία. Τα μέτρα για τη δημόσια υγεία θα πρέπει να προστατεύουν τους ανθρώπους, ειδικά τα άτομα που ανήκουν σε ομάδες υψηλού κινδύνου, όπως οι ηλικιωμένοι και οι ασθενείς με χρόνιες παθήσεις. Δεν πρέπει να τους παγιδεύουν σε υπερπλήρεις καταυλισμούς με περιορισμένη πρόσβαση σε νερό και τουαλέτες, όπου είναι προφανώς αδύνατο να εφαρμοστούν τα μέτρα πρόληψης και προστασίας για τη νόσο COVID-19. Οι Γιατροί Χωρίς Σύνορα συνεχίζουμε να ζητάμε την μεταφορά των ατόμων που ανήκουν σε ευπαθείς ομάδες (ηλικιωμένοι, άτομα με χρόνιες ασθένειες) από τα κέντρα υποδοχής σε ασφαλή καταλύματα, όπου θα μπορούν να εφαρμόσουν τα μέτρα προστασίας της δημόσιας υγείας.»

Γιατροί του Κόσμου:

“Παρά την διαδεδομένη αντίληψη ότι υπάρχει σύνδεση ανάμεσα στους μετακινούμενους πληθυσμούς και την εισαγωγή ή/και διάδοση μεταδιδόμενων ασθενειών, δεν υπάρχει συστηματικός συσχετισμός ανάμεσα στα δύο. Σε “κλειστούς πληθυσμούς”, όπως είναι τα ΚΥΤ και οι δομές φιλοξενίας, ο ιός μπορεί να μεταδίδεται ταχύτατα σε σχέση με τον υπόλοιπο πληθυσμό. Αυτό οφείλεται στον συγχρωτισμό και τις κακές συνθήκες υγιεινής και αναδεικνύει ακόμα πιο καθαρά την ανάγκη αποσυμφόρησης και την μεταφορά των ανθρώπων αυτών σε εναλλακτικές μορφές διαμονής.”

Ηλίας Κονδύλης, Αναπληρωτής Καθηγητής ΠΦΥ – Πολιτικής Υγείας και Αλέξης Μπένος, Καθηγητής Υγιεινής, Κοινωνικής Ιατρικής και ΠΦΥ – Εργαστήριο Πρωτοβάθμιας Φροντίδας Υγείας, Γενικής Ιατρικής και Έρευνας Υπηρεσιών Υγείας, Τμήμα Ιατρικής Α.Π.Θ.:

“Η απαγόρευση κυκλοφορίας στα κέντρα υποδοχής και τις δομές φιλοξενίας προσφύγων, μεταναστών και αιτούντων ασύλου για συνολικά 125 μέρες εν μέσω πανδημίας (η αντίστοιχη απαγόρευση στο γενικό πληθυσμό διήρκησε 43 ημέρες) και η συνεχής παράταση της χωρίς καμία επιστημονική τεκμηρίωση, δεν αποτελεί ενδεδειγμένο μέσο για τον έλεγχο της επιδημίας Covid-19. Αντιθέτως, συνιστά πράξη η οποία αναπόφευκτα αυξάνει το στίγμα, την περιθωριοποίηση και απομόνωση των ήδη αρκετά βεβαρημένων και ευάλωτων προσφυγικών πληθυσμών στη χώρα μας, αυξάνοντας ταυτόχρονα περαιτέρω τους κινδύνους μαζικής εξάπλωσης της νόσου covid-19 στους έγκλειστους αυτούς πληθυσμούς. Βασικά μέσα, σε ατομικό επίπεδο, για την πρόληψη από τη νόσο covid-19 παραμένουν η τήρηση των κανόνων υγιεινής και η τήρηση των αποστάσεων με αποφυγή του συγχρωτισμού. Οι βασικοί αυτοί κανόνες ατομικής πρόληψης είναι φύσει αδύνατον να τηρηθούν εντός των ΚΥΤ, λόγω των συνθηκών διαβίωσης σε αυτά. Η άρση των αδικαιολόγητων περιορισμών κυκλοφορίας στα ΚΥΤ, η αποσυμφόρηση τους και η άμεση μετεγκατάσταση των πλέον ευάλωτων προσφύγων/μεταναστών σε ασφαλείς δομές στην κοινότητα είναι οι μόνες επιστημονικά ενδεδειγμένες πολιτικές πρόληψης της νόσου covid-19 τόσο για την προστασία των προσφυγικών/μεταναστευτικών πληθυσμών όσο και τη προστασία του γενικού πληθυσμού».

DemelzaHaurat και NoorRijnberg, ιατροί

“Aς επιχειρήσουμε να φανταστούμε ποια μπορεί να είναι η ψυχική κατάσταση κάποιου που ζει περιορισμένος, μαζί με 17.000 άλλους ανθρώπους, σε θερμοκρασίες 33 βαθμών, μέσα σε καταυλισμούς όπως η Μόρια, όπου οι εντάσεις είναι ήδη υψηλές. Ο περιορισμός της ελευθερίας κίνησης επιδεινώνει την ψυχολογική δυσφορία, την απελπισία και τη βία. Το ζούμε καθημερινά στην κλινική μας όπου καταγράφουμε αύξηση των περιστατικών διαταραχής πανικού και της σεξουαλικής και ενδοοικογενειακής βίας».

Oι υπογράφουσες οργανώσεις:

Αctionaid Hellas


Amnesty International -Διεθνής Αμνηστία

Are you Syrious?


ΑΝΤΙΓΟΝΗ-Κέντρο Πληροφόρησης και Τεκμηρίωσης για το Ρατσισμό, την Οικολογία, την Ειρήνη και τη Μη Βία

AΡΣΙΣ – Κοινωνική Οργάνωση Υποστήριξης Νέων

Γιατροί του Κόσμου – Ελλάδα

Defence for Children International – Eλλάδα

Δίκτυο για τα Δικαιώματα του Παιδιού

Ελληνικό Παρατηρητήριο των Συμφωνιών του Ελσίνκι

Ελληνικό Συμβούλιο για τους Πρόσφυγες

Εqual Rights Beyond Βorders

Help Refugees


HIAS Ελλάδας

HumanRights360

ΙΑΤΡΙΚΗ ΠΑΡΕΜΒΑΣΗ- MEDIN


INTERSOS
 Hellas

Κέντρο Ημέρας Βαβέλ

Legal Centre Lesvos


Mobile Info Team Thessaloniki

Οικολογικό Κίνημα Θεσσαλονίκης


Refugee Legal Support


SolidarityNow


Συμβίωση – Σχολή Πολιτικών Σπουδών στην Ελλάδα, Δίκτυο Συμβουλίου της Ευρωπης

Terre des hommes Hellas


Thalassa of Solidarity


PRESS RELEASE

Organisations in Greece, local and international health bodies warn: “discrimination does not protect against COVID-19”

Athens, 17 July 2020

Following the letter sent to the Greek authorities in early July, these organisations which work with refugees and migrants in Greece would like to express their concern and opposition to the decision of the government to once again impose confinement measures on all the accommodation facilities for asylum-seekers in Greece, in the general context of preventing the emergence and spread of cases of the coronavirus COVID-19.

Although restrictions on free movement aimed at the protection of public health can be necessary and justified, these organisations argue that they should nevertheless be based on scientific evidence, and that they should not be imposed on the basis of arbitrary criteria which allude to social discrimination, considering the fact that restrictions on movement have been lifted for other residents of the country. Public health reasons can in no way be invoked for the imposition of measures restricting free movement for residents in the specific accommodation facilities, as they would not be grounded on any scientific reasoning. In fact, in some cases the measures violate the EU directive on the standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (2013/33 article 8 on detention).

In particular, as highlighted in communiques and guidelines from international organisations, academia and civil society organisations – some of which are listed at the end of this statement – there is no evidence that isolating entire accommodation facilities or applying restrictive measures on movement are effective in limiting the transmission of the virus in accommodation facilities for asylum-seekers and migrants, or result in additional protective effects for the general population, other than those achieved by conventional containment and protection measures which apply to the population as a whole. Therefore, a sensible strategy for preventing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting the refugee population should focus on the improvement of precarious housing conditions, which make social distancing impossible in the overcrowded accommodation centres. To date, however, the efforts made to this end have been insufficient. In fact, many organisations which work in centres where measures limiting free movement have been applied, have identified an increase in psychological pressure and stress which can lead to the general deterioration of the health of asylum-seekers. Moreover, movement restrictions impede asylum-seekers’ access to vital services (medical, legal etc.) which are located outside of the camps where they reside.

According to the signatories of this statement, the government should rigorously evaluate any public health policies it adopts in accordance with the principles of necessity, proportionality and in conformity with the principle of non-discrimination, and should refrain from ‘normalising’ exceptional measures through abusive appeals to a state of emergency. Equally, the measures implemented should be aimed at the actual protection of the health of the refugee population and as a result the population of the country as whole, namely:

-Decongestion of overcrowded facilities

-Proper and flexible use of available EU funds for the improvement of living conditions with the utmost transparency

-Inclusion in primary health care of all migrant populations, including un-registered asylum-seekers and those in “limbo”

-Secure the provision of water, disinfection, and health services (WASH)

-Distribution of personal hygiene items

-Provision of comprehensive and comprehensible information to refugee communities

-Promote the public understanding of public health issues, especially in relation to accommodation of the immigrant population.

There needs to be generally understood that there can be no public health without the protection of the health of refugees and migrants. The demonisation of the refugee population which has been observed lately – especially at a time when efforts should be made for their smooth integration into the social fabric and labour market of the country – does not defend the real interests of citizens and irreparably harms the democratic principles of the country.

World Health Organisation

“The right to COVID-19 preparedness, prevention and control for refugees and migrants should be exercised through non-discriminatory, child- and gender- sensitive comprehensive laws and national policies and practices. The health conditions experienced by refugees and migrants, including those with COVID-19 infections, should not be used as an excuse for imposing arbitrary restrictions, stigmatization, detention, deportation and other forms of discriminatory practices.” (Excerpt from WHO interim guidance, 17 April 2020).

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

“Whilst there is no evidence to suggest that SARS-CoV-2 transmission is higher amongst migrants and refugees, environmental factors such as overcrowding in reception and detention centres may increase their exposure to the disease. Outbreaks in reception and detention centres can also spread quickly in the absence of adequate prevention measures.”

“There is no evidence that quarantining whole camps effectively limits transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in settings of reception and detention, or provides any additional protective effects for the general population, outside those that could be achieved by conventional containment and protection measures.” (Excerpts from Technical Report, 15 June 2020)

Médecins Sans Frontières

“The extension of the measures restricting the movement of asylum-seekers who live in accommodation centres will further reduce their already limited access to basic services and medical care and, in the current phase of the COVID-19 epidemic, it cannot be justified from a public health perspective. So far, there have been no confirmed cases in any of the island reception facilities, a fact which means that their population is not a danger. On the contrary, it is in danger. This kind of discrimination stigmatises and marginalises refugees, asylum-seekers and immigrants, it is not justified from a public health perspective and it increases the vulnerability of this population in the face of the epidemic. Measures for public health should above all protect people, especially those in high-risk groups, such as the elderly and patients with chronic diseases. They should not trap them in overcrowded camps with limited access to water and toilets, where it is clearly impossible to implement prevention and protection measures for the COVID-19 virus. Médecins Sans Frontières continues to demand the transfer of people belonging to vulnerable groups (the elderly, people with chronic diseases) away from the reception centres to safe accommodation, where they can apply public health protection measures.”

Médecins du Monde

“Despite the widespread perception that there is a link between migrating populations and the introduction or spread of infectious diseases, there is no systematic correlation between the two. In “closed populations”, such as Reception and Identification Centres (RICs) or accommodation facilities, the virus can be transmitted very quickly relative to the rest of the population. This is due to concentration and bad health conditions and further highlights the need for decongestion and the transfer of those people to alternative forms of accommodation.”

Ilias Kondilis, Associate Professor ΠΦΥ (Primary Health Care) – Public Health, and Alexis Benos, professor of Health, Social and ΠΦΥ – Laboratory of Primary Health Care, General Medicine and Health Services Research, Faculty of Medicine Α.Π.Θ (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki):

“The ban on movement in reception centres and accommodation facilities for refugees, immigrants and asylum-seekers for a total of 125 days during the pandemic (the corresponding ban in the general population lasted 43 days) and its continuous extension without any scientific evidence is not an appropriate means for controlling the COVID-19 epidemic. On the contrary, it is a practice which inevitably increases the stigma, the marginalisation and isolation of those already heavily vulnerable refugee populations in our country, at the same time further increasing the risks of mass spread of the COVID-19 virus to those incarcerated populations. The fundamental means, on an individual level, for the prevention of COVID-19, remain the respect of hygiene rules and the observance of social distancing, by avoiding crowds. These basic rules of personal prevention are by nature impossible to comply with in RIC’s, due to the living conditions. The removal of unjustified movement restrictions in RICs, or their decongestion and the immediate relocation of the more vulnerable refugees/immigrants to safe facilities in the community are the only scientifically proven policies to guard against COVID-19, both as concerns the protection of refugee/immigrant populations and the protection of the general population”.

Demelza Haurat and Noor Rijnberg, doctors

“Let’s try to imagine what will be the psychological state of someone who lives under confinement, together with 17.000 other people, in temperatures of 33 degrees, in camps like Moria, where tensions are already high. The limiting of free movement exacerbates psychological discomfort, despair and violence. We experience it everyday in our clinic where we record an increase in cases of panic disorder, sexual and domestic violence”

The undersigned organisations:

Αctionaid Hellas

Amnesty International -Διεθνής Αμνηστία

Are you Syrious?


ΑΝΤΙΓΟΝΗ-Κέντρο Πληροφόρησης και Τεκμηρίωσης για το Ρατσισμό, την Οικολογία, την Ειρήνη και τη Μη Βία

AΡΣΙΣ – Κοινωνική Οργάνωση Υποστήριξης Νέων

Γιατροί του Κόσμου – Ελλάδα

Defence for Children International – Eλλάδα

Δίκτυο για τα Δικαιώματα του Παιδιού

Ελληνικό Παρατηρητήριο των Συμφωνιών του Ελσίνκι

Greek Council for Refugees (GCR)

Εqual Rights Beyond Europe

Help Refugees


HIAS Ελλάδας

HumanRights360

ΙΑΤΡΙΚΗ ΠΑΡΕΜΒΑΣΗ- MEDIN


INTERSOS
Hellas

Κέντρο Ημέρας Βαβέλ

Legal Centre Lesvos


Mobile Info Team Thessaloniki

Οικολογικό Κίνημα Θεσσαλονίκης


Refugee Legal Support

SolidarityNow

Συμβίωση – Σχολή Πολιτικών Σπουδών στην Ελλάδα, Δίκτυο Συμβουλίου της Ευρωπης

Terre des hommes Hellas

Thalassa of Solidarity

Press Release: New Legal Centre Lesvos report details collective expulsions in the Aegean Sea

In a photo taken by Legal Centre Lesvos from Lesvos island on 17 June 2020, two Greek vessels surround a migrant boat, which GPS coordinates sent to Alarm Phone confirmed was in Greek territorial water. For several hours, the migrant boat was left without assistance. The Turkish Coast Guard later collected the occupants of the boat, returning them to Turkey. Collective expulsions carried out in this manner are contrary to international law, violate individuals’ right to life and right to be free from cruel and degrading treatment, and are in violation of international maritime law obligating rescue at sea. For full report click here.

[Ακολουθεί κείμενο στα ελληνικά]

Greek authorities are unlawfully expelling migrants who have arrived in Greece, and abandoning them at sea on motorless, inflatable vessels. In a report released today by Legal Centre Lesvos, testimonies from 30 survivors detail the systematic, unlawful and inherently violent nature of these collective expulsions.

Since the Greek authorities’ one month suspension of the right to seek asylum on 1 March 2020, the Greek government has adopted various unlawful practices that are openly geared towards the deterrence and violent disruption of migrant crossings, with little regard for its obligations deriving from international law and specifically from the non refoulement principle – and even less for the lives of those seeking sanctuary.

While collective expulsions from Greece to Turkey are not new, in recent months Greek authorities have been using rescue equipment – namely inflatable, motorless life rafts – in a new type of dystopic expulsion. Migrants are violently transferred from Greek islands, or from the dinghy upon which they are travelling, to such rafts, which are then left adrift in open water.

In addition to the well-documented practice of non-assistance to migrant dinghies, the Greek authorities have damaged the motor or gasoline tank of migrant dinghies before returning the vessel – and the people on board – to open waters, where they are subsequently abandoned.

These collective expulsions, happening in the Aegean region, are not isolated events. Direct testimonies from survivors, collected by the Legal Centre Lesvos, demonstrate that they are part of a widespread and systematic practice, with a clear modus operandi implemented across various locations in the Aegean Sea and on the Eastern Aegean islands.
The information shared with the Legal Centre Lesvos is from 30 survivors, and testimonies from 7 individuals who were in direct contact with survivors, or were witness to, a collective expulsion. These testimonies, related to eight separate collective expulsions, were collected between March and June 2020, directly by the Legal Centre Lesvos.

Collective expulsions are putting peoples’ lives at risk, are contrary to Greece’ international legal obligations and violate survivors’ fundamental and human rights, including their right to life and the jus cogens prohibitions on torture and refoulement. When carried out as part of a widespread and systematic practice, as documented in our report, these amount to a crime against humanity.

Collective expulsions should undoubtedly be condemned, in the strongest possible terms; however, this is not sufficient: it is only through the immediate cessation of such illegal practices that the protection of human rights and access to asylum will be restored at the European Union’s external borders.

Click Here for Full Report / Πατήστε εδώ για την πλήρη αναφορά

Lorraine Leete, attorney and one of the Legal Centre Lesvos’ coordinators, said that:
“The Greek authorities are abandoning people in open water, on inflatable and motorless life rafts – that are designed for rescue – with no regard for their basic safety, let alone their right to apply for asylum. Such audacious acts show the violence at the core of the European border regime, and the disregard that it has for human life.

Greek authorities have denied reports of collective expulsions as “fake news”, despite a plethora of undeniable evidence, from survivors and various media outlets. This is untenable: evidence shared with the Legal Centre has shown that collective expulsions are happening in the Aegean sea, with a systematic and widespread modus operandi that amounts to crimes against humanity. They are being carried out in the open, in plain view – if not with the participation – of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex. European Authorities are complicit in these crimes as they have thus far failed to act to prevent further pushbacks, or hold Greek authorities accountable.”

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ΔΕΛΤΙΟ ΤΥΠΟΥ

Οι ελληνικές αρχές προβαίνουν σε παράνομες απελάσεις μεταναστών που έχουν φτάσει στην Ελλάδα και τους εγκαταλείπουν στη θάλασσα σε φουσκωτές βάρκες χωρίς κινητήρα. Σε έκθεση που δημοσιεύθηκε σήμερα από το LegalCentreLesvos, μαρτυρίες από 30 επιζώντες περιγράφουν λεπτομερώς τη συστηματική, παράνομη και ιδιαίτερα βίαιη μορφή αυτών των ομαδικών απελάσεων.

Αφότου οι ελληνικές αρχές ανέστειλαν τα αιτήματα ασύλου, την 1η Μαρτίου 2020, η ελληνική κυβέρνηση έχει υιοθετήσει ποικίλες παράνομες πρακτικές που αποσκοπούν ευθέως στην αποτροπή και τη βίαιη διακοπή των μεταναστευτικών ροών, με ελάχιστο σεβασμό στις υποχρεώσεις που απορρέουν από το διεθνές δίκαιο και συγκεκριμένα από την αρχή της μη επαναπροώθησης – και ακόμη λιγότερο για τη ζωή εκείνων που αναζητούν καταφύγιο.

Ενώ οι ομαδικές απελάσεις από την Ελλάδα στην Τουρκία δεν είναι κάτι νέο, τους τελευταίους μήνες οι ελληνικές αρχές χρησιμοποιούν εξοπλισμό διάσωσης – δηλαδή φουσκωτές, σωσίβιες σχεδίες – στο πλαίσιο ενός νέου τύπου τρομακτικής απέλασης. Οι μετανάστες μεταφέρονται βίαια από ελληνικά νησιά, ή από τη βάρκα στην οποία ταξιδεύουν, σε τέτοιες σχεδίες, οι οποίες στη συνέχεια αφήνονται στο νερό.

Επιπλέον εκτός από την καταγεγραμμένη πρακτική της μη παροχής βοήθειας σε βάρκες μεταναστών, οι ελληνικές αρχές έχουν καταστρέψει τον κινητήρα ή την δεξαμενή βενζίνης των λέμβων πριν επιστρέψουν τη βάρκα – και τους ανθρώπους που βρίσκονται σε αυτό -, όπου στη συνέχεια εγκαταλείπονται.

Αυτές οι ομαδικές απελάσεις, που συμβαίνουν στην περιοχή του Αιγαίου, δεν είναι μεμονωμένα γεγονότα. Οι άμεσες μαρτυρίες επιζώντων, που συλλέχθηκαν από το Legal Centre Lesvos, αποδεικνύουν ότι αποτελούν μέρος μιας διαδεδομένης και συστηματικής πρακτικής, με ένα σαφές modus operandi που εφαρμόζεται σε διάφορες τοποθεσίες στο Αιγαίο Πέλαγος και στα νησιά του Ανατολικού Αιγαίου.

Οι πληροφορίες που κοινοποιούνται στο Legal Centre Lesvos προέρχονται από 30 επιζώντες και μαρτυρίες από 7 άτομα που ήρθαν σε άμεση επαφή με τους επιζώντες ή ήταν μάρτυρες μιας ομαδικής απέλασης. Αυτές οι μαρτυρίες, που σχετίζονται με οκτώ ξεχωριστές ομαδικές απελάσεις, συλλέχθηκαν μεταξύ Μαρτίου και Ιουνίου 2020, απευθείας από Legal Centre Lesvos.

Τέτοιες ομαδικές απελάσεις είναι ξεκάθαρα βίαια γεγονότα. Οι ομαδικές απελάσεις είναι αντίθετες με τις διεθνείς νομικές υποχρεώσεις της Ελλάδας και παραβιάζουν τα θεμελιώδη και ανθρώπινα δικαιώματα των επιζώντων, συμπεριλαμβανομένου του δικαιώματος στη ζωή τους και την juscogensαπαγόρευση των βασανιστηρίων και επαναπροώθησης. Όταν πραγματοποιείται ως μέρος μιας διαδεδομένης και συστηματικής πρακτικής, όπως τεκμηριώνεται στην έκθεσή μας, αυτά ισοδυναμούν με εγκλήματα κατά της ανθρωπότητας. Οι ομαδικές απελάσεις πρέπει αναμφίβολα να καταδικάζονται με τον πιο εμφατικό τρόπο. Ωστόσο, αυτό δεν αρκεί: μόνο με την άμεση παύση τέτοιων παράνομων πρακτικών θα αποκατασταθεί η προστασία των ανθρωπίνων δικαιωμάτων και η πρόσβαση στο άσυλο στα εξωτερικά σύνορα της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης.

Πατήστε εδώ για την πλήρη αναφορά

Η Lorraine Leete, δικηγόρος και μία από τις συντονίστριες του Legal Centre Lesvos, δήλωσε ότι:

«Οι ελληνικές αρχές εγκαταλείπουν τους ανθρώπους σε ανοιχτή θάλασσα, σε φουσκωτές βάρκες χωρίς μηχανή – που έχουν σχεδιαστεί για διάσωση – χωρίς να λαμβάνεται υπόψη η θεμελιώδης ασφάλειά τους, πόσο μάλλον το δικαίωμά τους να υποβάλλουν αίτημα ασύλου. Τέτοιες ριψοκίνδυνες πράξεις δείχνουν τη βία στον πυρήνα του ευρωπαϊκού συνοριακού καθεστώτος και την αδιαφορία που έχει για την ανθρώπινη ζωή.

Οι ελληνικές αρχές έχουν αρνηθεί τις καταγγελίες ομαδικών απελάσεων ως “fakenews”, παρά την πληθώρα αδιαμφισβήτητων στοιχείων, από επιζώντες και διάφορα μέσα ενημέρωσης. Αυτό είναι αβάσιμο: τα στοιχεία που οι ανωτέρω μοιράζονται με το LegalCentre κατέδειξαν ότι οι ομαδικές απελάσεις συμβαίνουν στο Αιγαίο, με ένα συστηματικό και διαδεδομένο τρόπο λειτουργίας που ισοδυναμεί με έγκλημα κατά της ανθρωπότητας. Διεξάγονται φανερά – εάν όχι με τη συμμετοχή του Ευρωπαϊκού Οργανισμού Συνοριοφυλακής και Ακτοφυλακής, Frontex. Τα Ευρωπαϊκά Όργανα είναι συνένοχα σε αυτά τα εγκλήματα, καθώς μέχρι στιγμής δεν κατάφεραν να ενεργήσουν για να αποτρέψουν περαιτέρω επαναπροωθήσεις (“pushbacks”) ή να λογοδοτήσουν οι ελληνικές αρχές.

Εκπρόσωπος Τύπου: Lorraine Leete, lorraine@legalcentrelesvos.org, +30 6955074724

Hostility towards migrants and those working to support them continues as state policy in Lesvos

LEGAL CENTRE LESVOS UPDATE: Police fines for migrants seeking legal aid, the prolonged lockdown on refugee camps, the detention of new arrivals in the Mytiline port (again), and government measures targeting organizations working with migrants are four recent threads in the Greek authorities’ growing hostility towards migrants and those working to support them.

Last week, the asylum services opened in Lesvos after two months’ closure due to COVID-19. During their closure, at least 1400 individuals were issued with first instance rejections to their asylum claims. If they wish to challenge this negative decision, which is their right, they are required to file an appeal within the first 10 days’ of the asylum services’ reopening.

The successful lodging of so many appeals is, in practical terms, impossible. Not only did the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) cap the number of people allowed to appeal at 100/day, which would require at least 14 days’ operation – four days over the deadline – to meet the need, but the practicalities of lodging an appeal further thwart individuals’ opportunities.

The lockdown continues for Moria refugee camp. Only 70 permissions to leave the camp are given per day, in addition to permission for those with medical appointments. This limited number of permissions is obviously insufficient in a camp of approximately 20,000 individuals who have various reasons to leave, in addition to seeking legal aid.

Under Article 71(3) of Greek asylum law Law 4636/2019, asylum seekers “shall be provided, upon their request, with free legal assistance in the procedures before the Appeals Authority.” This right, also protected in Article 20 of EU Directive 2013/32/EU, has been systematically denied since July 2017 in Lesvos. Despite the denial of legal aid, the Regional Asylum Office of Lesvos (RAO) has stated that it will not extend the deadline of 10 days for individuals to appeal, practically guaranteeing that the majority of these 1400 individuals will be unable to challenge their negative decision.

Several individuals came to the Legal Centre Lesvos last Monday – the first day the asylum office opened – seeking legal advice following the rejection of their asylum claim, and the police were quick to close off the street in order to trap people waiting outside our offices. They issued fines of 150€ (which we have challenged) to the fourteen migrants then queuing outside for assistance who had not obtained permission to leave the camp.

Although visiting a lawyer was recognised as a reason for individuals to obtain permission to leave the camps since the previous Friday – the relatively small number of people allowed to leave, and the period of time that they are granted to leave the camp, again limited their practical ability to receive legal assistance. Furthermore, police continued to visit our offices nearly every day, reprimanding people for standing less than 2m apart or for gathering in groups larger than 9 people – despite the fact that distancing is impossible inside the overcrowded refugee camps, and that since the lifting of movement restrictions for the general population across Greece, the streets, beaches and squares are thronged with other groups of people left undisturbed by police.

Despite such ongoing and targeted harassment, LCL assisted over 130 people in lodging their appeal last week. While we also have limited capacity to take on cases for representation on appeal, if people are able to lodge the appeal, their case will be reviewed by the Appeals Committee, and they can gather and submit supporting documentation and potentially find legal representation before their appeal is examined. At least two individuals – one from Mali, and one from Afghanistan, were granted residency in Greece on appeal, after the Legal Centre assisted them in lodging their appeal. Both these individuals were detained when we assisted them with lodging the appeal, and received no other legal assistance on appeal.

Among those assisted last week include families, in which one spouse is granted status and the other is rejected, and survivors of torture and sexual violence in their countries of origin. Furthermore, multiple individuals have been rejected without an interview. These few examples demonstrate that numerous valid asylum cases are being overlooked under the accelerated procedure implemented since January 2020, and many errors will likely remain unchallenged given the lack of legal aid. These individuals include:

  • A, from Afghanistan, who married his wife R in Iran – as they were married outside of their country of origin, they have not been recognised as a family unit under Article 2 of the present Greek asylum law, 4636/2019. She is now seven months’ pregnant with their first child, and has been granted refugee status, but A has been rejected. Given that latest statistics from the Appeal Committee showed over 95% rejection rate, there is a very real possibility that A will be deported back to Afghanistan, separating him from his wife, and leaving R to raise their baby alone in Greece;
  • K, from Afghanistan, and his wife N. They have three small children together, and N is now seven months’ pregnant with their fourth child. She and the three children were granted refugee status, but K has been rejected – as K´s application was considered separately under Article 2 of Law 4636/2019, since they were married in Iran. N, while an Afghan national, was born in Iran, met her husband in Iran, and she and K started their family in Iran. The family link between K and his wife was denied simply because of their place of marriage, indicative of the cruel and methodical application of the current asylum law;
  • M, from Syria, and his wife and two children. They have been deported from Turkey to Syria multiple times – in clear violation of the principle of non-refoulement – and yet the asylum service has ruled that Turkey is a safe country for them, and has therefore deemed their application in Greece inadmissible. Despite the increase in unlawful deportations from Turkey to Syria, and Turkish aggression within Syria – itself a cause of mass displacement – Greece and the EU continue to consider it a safe country for Syrians;
  • M, from Afghanistan, and his family. They faced a violent and unlawful pushback at the northern border of Greece, in which their passports and possessions – including the milk that they were carrying for their young baby – were stolen, before crossing successfully to Lesvos several months later. They did their interview within two weeks of arriving, without legal assistance, and were rejected two months later. They have not had an opportunity to challenge their unlawful pushback, and could be deported again before being able to do so;
  • N, from Afghanistan, who left Lesvos without permission after being sexually assaulted in Moria refugee camp, and therefore did not renew her asylum seeker’s card on its expiry date – which resulted in her case being closed and her asylum claim rejected as unfounded, under Article 81 of L 4636/2019, without her having done a substantive interview.

None of the individuals mentioned, nor the vast majority of those that LCL assisted this week, had received any legal assistance at any stage of their asylum procedure thus far. Most were interviewed within a few weeks of arriving on the island, after making the inherently traumatizing journey from Turkey, and being forced to live in the overcrowded and inhumane Moria Refugee Camp. Those who made it to our offices in Mytilene after Monday´s fines were issued were among the few given permission to leave the camp.

Restriction on the movement of residents of refugee camps in Greece (Moria and Karatepe Camps in Lesvos) remains in place at least until the 7th of June, ostensibly to prevent the spread of Covid-19 – despite the fact that there has not been a single case in either camp. Furthermore, two months after Covid-19 movement restrictions were enacted throughout Greece, thousands of vulnerable individuals in refugee camps have yet to be evacuated or provided protection from Covid-19. Meanwhile, on Monday bars and restaurants opened across Greece, and the previous restriction on travel to the Greek islands for non-residents and island workers was also lifted.

This discriminatory treatment of migrants is preventing people from seeking legal aid, and is simultaneously fulfilling the goal of local right wing groups of keeping migrants out of public spaces away from public view. In February and March, local right wing groups set up roadblocks targeting migrants and those in solidarity with them, and preventing migrants from reaching Mytilene. Now, migrants’ effective restriction to Moria and Kara Tepe Camps has become state policy.

The Greek government’s open pursuit of migration policies with a single goal – to deter arrivals and facilitate mass deportations – continues, and will be further accelerated by the application of amendments to the asylum law next month.

These amendments, in addition to further stripping migrants rights, also place onerous accounting obligations and restrictions on the operation of non-governmental organizations working with migrants – obligations and restrictions which are not required of organizations working in other fields. In February and March, NGO workers and those in solidarity with migrants were targeted and physically attacked by local right wing groups, both at civilian-organized roadblocks and in isolated attacks to NGO cars and personnel. Now the targeting of NGOs working with migrants has been enacted into law, threatening the freedom of association of political organizations, and the continued operation of small grassroots organizations.

Beyond the decimation of migrants’ rights within the legal procedure and continued movement restrictions on the island, migrant lives continue to be instrumentalised from their moment of arrival to Lesvos.

Sixteen people who arrived from Turkey last week – eleven adults and five children (of which two are unaccompanied) from Syria, Togo and the Democratic Republic of Congo – are currently detained on a bus in the Mytiline port, where they have been held since Thursday night. When they first arrived, they were not given any food for over twenty-four hours, until an intervention by LCL and No Border Kitchen Lesvos, who also brought blankets and diapers to the detainees. The group have no information as to why they are being held or for how long they will be kept in the port, but have expressed their fear of being collectively expelled to Turkey – a practice that has become increasingly well-documented in recent weeks. Moreover, although everyone in the group has tested negative for Covid-19, the police have dispersed people trying to communicate with the new arrivals through the fence – even at a Covid-19 safe distance – continuing the practice of isolation and information deprivation of new arrivals that was initiated in March and April.

The Mayor of Mytiline, Stratis Kytelis, reportedly suggested that the group be held in the port – as opposed to being transferred to a quarantine-prepared building, where non-governmental organisations were prepared to assist – to raise “awareness” of Lesvos’ inability to cope with the arrival of new asylum seekers. The subjugation of this group does not, however, speak to the resource challenges faced by the island (as mentioned above, a building was prepared to receive them) or the burden that it bears in relation to the rest of the EU. Instead, it demonstrates the authorities’ willingness to ignore their moral, legal and international obligations, and to use inhumane treatment to punish migrants, deter new arrivals, and capitulate to the far-right.