Refugees Protest Against Arrests And Closed Borders
On Sunday, March 20, the EU-Turkey Agreement came into effect in Greece. Although not officially waved through in Greek parliament (Turkey has yet to be declared a safe third country), the Greek police have started to arrest everyone who came to Greek islands via boat since Sunday. On Chios, for example, people are held in detention in the former military base Vial (see coordinates), lacking food, water, sanitary equipment, and information. This report briefly summarizes this week’s protests, and also the current conditions, especially on the Greek island of Chios.
Throughout the week, we have seen protests evolving in different parts of Greece. In Pireaus Port, refugees have been demonstrating throughout the week. Refugees from the camp Nea Kavala had started to block the highway from Thessaloniki, and likewise in Idomeni, refugees have started a blockade, some going on a hunger strike. Earlier this week, refugees set themselves on fire in an act of desperation. They are decidedly demanding a border opening and not better conditions in the camp.
By now, over 12.000 people are stuck in Idomeni, waiting for the route to open again. As we have reported last week, their wish to go further to Central Europe, not back to Greece, for which they endure such terrible situations. Today, Friday, there are increased attempts to bring people to camps. One refugee told us that she heard from the police that from Wednesday on, they will be forced to be evicted.
Chios: Illegal and abitrary detention
The EU-Turkey Agreement has the arrest of any refugee on Greek islands as one of its explicit key points. The situation that evolves out of this is unspeakable, as both activists and refugees reported are it. “We are in a place like a prison, although we didn’t do anything wrong. We don’t get medical supplies and no doctor comes to see us, and they don’t give us any clothes or blankets. We sleep on the floor“, a young female refugee reported, as also layed out in this press release from earlier this week. It is unimaginable to us that this situation is not only tolerated, but explicitly endorsed and put into place. It is a situation that we can hardly believe to not only be tolerated, but explicitly put into existence by Europe. All refugees are supposed to be deported to Turkey. And until this happens, they are to be kept in detention. Moreover, the detention centers not only keep people in prison-like conditions, they are also deprived to basic needs, lacking food, medical supplies and doctors, and most severe: They have no access to the Greek Asylum Service.
Wednesday, activists reported a police attempt to criminalize their activities, such as distributing food through the fence or talking to people – by trespassing activists from the public road, checking their ID and claiming the area „restricted“.
They were informed that that police had left the site in the afternoon and that there was fear that fights between different groups in the camp would lead to injuries. Later, as we heard, this sadly became true: “There was a fight today between Syrians and Afghans today. They fought each other with stones. Five people were wounded, one woman, the rest were boys” said one refugee who is detained in the camp in Vial. Another states that there were no police to intervene: “There were no police, and they kept on fighting each other and some got hurt.”
After that incident, police appear to have re-entered the site.
Pireaus: Catastrophic Condition and Lack of Information in the Capital
Although now all refugees entering Greece are being detained, there are still some arrivals at Piraeus Port in Athens, and still many people camping out at the ferry terminals, not knowing were to go.
A young Syrian man, who has been staying in a tent at the port for 13 days, explains: “There’s no bathroom here, and the food is bad. Every two or three days, I have to pay for a Hotel to be able to take a shower. And now the border is closed – what can we do?” When we ask him for his prospects, he tells us that two days ago, he joined one of the busses that are taking people to camps from the port. He ended up in Volos, telling us: “When we reached the place, there was nothing but police men, no one, no medical care, and no supermarket around to buy food. So instead of going inside, we came back to Athens, walking to a station and taking the train.”
Later that afternoon, refugees again held a demonstration at the port.
And although Pireaus is not an isolated place, people are still lacking information or are misinformed by either police or smugglers. The health condition, especially for children, are critical, and there are many unaccompanied minors among the refugees at Pireaus. And cases like the one from the young man we spoke to are not rare: People return to Pireaus, since the situation in the camps is even worse.
Greek Forum of Refugees wishes to express its solidarity with the protests and demands of refugees in the country and in Europe. We condemn the treatment of refugees, who are coming to Europe to seek shelter and rest from war and live in misery as traitors who one keeps behind bars. We demand to not declare Turkey a safe country and to let refugees choose were in Greece they want to stay until the borders may eventually open again.
We appreciate that some NGOs such as MSF and also the UNHCR have suspended their activities in the new detention centers.