Lesvos and Chios: volunteers helping refugees arrested by police and Frontex, involvement of the International Rescue Committee

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Mark.
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Jan 25 2016 20:59

Idomeni - Greek police demanding money from refugees

Quote:

I saw a police vehicle parked up and a policeman talking to some people inside.

"If you give me 100 euros, you can go to Europe."

I wasn’t sure if this was for real. About 10 minutes later the same policeman came back and told them the same thing.

Mark.
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Jan 25 2016 22:09
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Over 1,000,000 million refugees entered Europe in 2015, more than 800,000 chose the Western Balkan route which took them to an obscure railway crossing near the tiny village of Eidomeni on Greece's northern border with FYR Macedonia.

After a journey from the port of Pireaus that can last up to 20 hours refugees are rushed by the Greek police to the border. Volunteer groups and NGOs at the camp are often given as little as 10 minutes to hand out food, clothing, medical aid and information before crossing over.

There is the constant fear that the government of FYR Macedonia will permanently close down the border with Greece and so leave people stranded. When the border is open or closed seems to be completely at the whim of the FYR Macedonia government and there is little or no co-operation between the authorities on both sides of the frontier and so little idea when and for how long the crossing remain shut.

For their part the Greek police who control access to Eidomeni also refuse to share information with NGOs and volunteer groups over when and how many refugees will be arriving at the camp on any given day, despite the fact that they control the flow from start to finish on the Greek mainland. Indeed since December the attitude of the police has perceptibly hardened, ranging from sullen indifference to active hostility, sometimes kicking out organisations such Médecins Sans Frontières all together, with little or no notice.

To make an already difficult situation worst, the police forbid access to the hot food, doctors, heated tents and other faciities that have been built recently at Eidomeni. Instead refugees are forced to wait endless hours at a road side petrol station/cafe 20km from the site whilst temperatures at night often drop to -15c. Here refugees are obliged to buy food and water whilst just a ten minute ride away volunteers wait to hand out such items at no cost.

Last week over 3,000 people, including many families with very young children were forced to endure extreme cold overnight while the camp remained half empty.

We are calling upon media outlets to highlight this scandalous abuse of refugees by the Greek authorities. The more international pressure is brought upon the SYRIZA government and prime minister, Alexis Tsipras the more likely refugees will receive more humane treatment on the Greek leg of their trek to safety.

Refugee Solidarity Movement Thessaloniki-Eidomeni

source

Mark.
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Jan 26 2016 00:52

EU exerts pressure on Greece via Schengen threat

Quote:

Un ministro griego recordando que los países tienen la obligación de rescatar a quienes están en peligro en el mar. A esto hemos llegado

Les da vergüenza decirlo, pero a muchos gobiernos europeos les encantaría q #Tsipras enviara a la Armada a hundir los barcos de #refugiados

When you ask #Greece to close it borders...you ask #Greece to kill the #refugees when they sail from Turkey.

https://mobile.twitter.com/IdafeMartin

Mark.
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Jan 26 2016 11:50
Quote:

One woman reached across the divide between her boat and the rescue boat and tried to hand her baby to Lewis. He said declining to take the child went against his instincts and experience as a surf lifesaver but it was what they were required to do.

“If you assist the boat in any way then you are helping people cross international borders and then you could be up for people-smuggling charges,” he said.

“We can’t just grab them out of their boat and put them in our boat because it’s safer. We have to wait until they are in the water, in a desperate situation.

“I just can’t put it into a situation that Australians would recognise because we have nothing in common with this situation.”

source

Mark.
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Jan 26 2016 14:34

Amnesty on the situation at Idomeni

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Jan 26 2016 18:36

Spanish lifeguards on Lesvos are being prevented from using their boats.

Quote:

Without permission to use our boats, we had to swim to rescue a boat that is adrift 300 meters from the coast.

@chris_vd_post Since a few days, Greek authorities only allow volunteers to act on the coast. We'll load last official regulation soon.

https://mobile.twitter.com/proemaid/status/691972245460275200

Mark.
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Jan 27 2016 16:33

Report in Greek about detainees, mainly Moroccans, being beaten by prison guards to get them to sign up for 'voluntary' repatriation.

Ενημέρωση από Μεταγωγών

Edit - translation:

Assaults against migrant prisoners in Thessaloniki removal center

Quote:

Information regarding assaults against prisoners (mainly of Moroccan origin) so that they would sign their deportations ”willingly” has been confirmed.

So far, many migrants have been removed from the detention centrer and were relocated to the concentration camp Paranesti by ”chance” and without being notified in advance. The exact number of migrants is unknown. The migrants are then given a 6 month detention period before being deported back to their country of origin.

Finally, doctors are not allowed to be present on site nor provide their services despite the severity of some of the cases of injury.

Mark.
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Jan 27 2016 12:34
Quote:

Greek MigrationMin Mouzalas says #Greece proposes a rapid readmission plan from Aegean islands directly to Turkey within 24/48hrs of arrival

Greek MigrationMin Mouzalas says Turkey has not yet accepted Greek proposal. 'More incentives needed for Turkey'.

source

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Jan 27 2016 16:30

European Commission press release

Commission discusses draft Schengen Evaluation Report on Greece

Zoe Mavroudi wrote:

EU strategy, same as on fin crisis: pass buck to Greece about a pan-European problem, talk about "common interests".

When the @EU_Commission talks of "border control" think drowned children, families sleeping in the cold, millions spent on security contracts

The @EU_Commission commemorates Holocaust Memorial Day with press release basically telling #Greece it must guard its borders from refugees.

Damomac wrote:
Let's remember the victims on #HolocaustMemorialDay and reflect on the fact that restrictive #refugee policy sealed the fate of many Jews.
Mark.
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Jan 27 2016 16:08

End Detention Facebook page

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Jan 27 2016 16:45

A year of disappointment in Greece

Yiannis Baboulias wrote:

....
In the end, Syriza backed down again and accepted European “help” in the form of more intervention by Frontex, the EU’s border agency. The agency’s first actions were to arrest volunteers on the islands of Chios and Lesbos for ridiculous charges, from trafficking to possession of small amounts of cannabis, and to close down infrastructure such as soup kitchens and observatories for approaching boats to help those arriving. Frontex also established fast deportation routes back to Turkey, where a recent BBC report showed that refugees have been tortured.

This broke two promises: First, under Syriza, solidarity networks that essentially fill in the gaps for a semi-collapsed central government were supposed to be allowed to operate unabated. Second, human rights and humane treatment of refugees were supposed to be respected. By agreeing to allow Frontex to operate as border police, Syriza is succumbing to Europe’s demands that Greece function as an open-air detention center for refugees.

The final straw is the extension until at least 2018 of Greek detention camps, all of which have come under heavy criticism for the squalid conditions under which detainees live. The government had vowed time and time again that they would be shut down. Now they won’t be.
....

Mark.
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Jan 28 2016 00:39
MSF Sea wrote:
UPDATE: The #Greece #FYROM border & the #FYROM #Serbia border are "temporarily" closed. For how long? nobody knows.
Andrew Connelly wrote:
#Idomeni border opened midday, let in ~150. Closed since. Deep sense of foreboding as clock ticks until Europe finally raises the drawbridge
Mark.
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Jan 27 2016 18:58

No one answered their desperate calls for help. Survivors tell about severe breaches of international law in Turkey.

11.45 PM, January 4, 2016 another boat sinks on its way to the Greek island Lesvos. After 12 hours in a freezing cold January sea, Ahmad staggers to land on the shore of Altinova, Turkey. As soon as his wounded feet reach dry land, he collapses. A local medical staff wraps him in a blanket.

This is the first help that he or any of the 52 people on the boat that would take them to Mytilini on Lesvos receive. Despite panicked screams for help and desperate phone calls to all authorities and contacts they know of.

They even met a boat out there in their peril, drifting towards death.

But no one came. Not on Greek water and not on Turkish water. The boat they met turned and left them.

Next to Ahmad on the shore, which in the summertime is crowded with affluent tourists, the other passengers washed ashore as the sun rises in they sky. Children, babies, mothers and fathers, ever petrified with fear. A little girl, who Ahmad held until she could not fight any longer, is lying there in her pink jacket.

The only survivors from the boat on January 4 are 12 men who travelled alone or with a friend or relative.

When Ahmad is taken in the ambulance he believes he is saved, in safety.

But he is wrong. This frightful story is far from over for him or the other survivors. It is still ongoing, somewhere in Turkey.

It is the first Monday of January and Ahmad is finally taking the way across the sea to Greece, to the EU. He is an open critic of the regime and has worked with art in Syria and Jordan. He has no other choice than to flee to Europe. He does not know where yet. He has bought a ticket for a day trip on a boat from a smuggler that seems to be good on Basmane Square in Izmir. This is where all the “traveling agencies” are. He is soon shown to a taxi and a convoy of cars drives them for hours. They are let off in a grove of olive trees somewhere. And immediately everything changes.

– We were met by a gang of smugglers, it was the mafia. They screamed, cursed and threatened us all, says Ahmad.

He says that the smugglers are armed with firearms and iron tools and knives as large as swords.

– They threatened and beat us all, not even the children got away. We didn’t want to, but they forced us into a boat even though it was dark, cold and the sea was rough.

The 52 people plus a driver got into the boat and drove out in the dark unknown sea. Everyone was afraid and after just ten minutes everyone onboard demanded the driver to turn around. He did as he was told.

– But when we came back to the place we left from the boss of the smugglers was still there. He became furious and started to hit the driver with his knife. He put a weapon against his head. Everyone in the boat screamed at him to stop, but then he threatened to do the same to anyone who screamed. He sent us back out again.

“If you come back I will kill you!”. The smuggler boss remained on the beach and in the boat Ahmad and the others began to understand their fate. They had no other option than to go straight out into the rough sea and the increasing rain. It was only a few degrees above freezing. In the little rubber boat which is really only meant for a few people, the children sit at the bottom. The passengers begin to become acquainted, introduce themselves and find out what skills they have.

– To dispel fear, says Ahmad.

And “just in case”. But they are all intent on reaching the other side, to the blinking red lights at the airport of Lesvos. They see no other choice. But when the rain and the frightening waves cause more and more panic onboard they decide to call the coast guard and hope to be saved that way. A ticket is about 1 000 Euro per person.

Even if it means becoming caught in Turkey. They do not dare return to the beach again.

The Turkish coast guard answers that they can be calm. They will come.

But when 30 minutes have passed since they called the coast guard no one has come to their rescue. The engine begins to malfunction. It breaks down and starts working again. Back and forth.

The boat crosses the border and they are on Greek water. They call the coast guard for help. They send an SOS in their Whatsapp group that they use to communicate during the journey. They write to other forums on Facebook and call family and friends for help.

Suddenly they see a ship closer to Greece and head towards it. The engine shuts down but they drift in the right direction. They even see the Greek shore, their goal. They are scared, but still see the light and hope in the blinking lamps along the coastline of Lesvos.

– We came all the way to the ship. Finally we are saved, we thought. We banged on the hull of the boat and together lifted the children in the air so that they would see them. Just take the children! we called. But no one came.

They call for help and see the captain come out. He shines a torch on them, smokes a cigarette. When he is done he throws the butt on Ahmad and the others in the boat and goes into the cabin and starts the ship’s engine.

They continue to call for help with the coast guard but they have stopped responding.

It is 11.45 PM. They know this for certain because one of the survivors’ watches has stopped at that time. 11.45 PM is also the time of the last emergency call from the boat. It is Ayman, a young Syrian who calls his brother and asks him to take care of his children now that he is dying at sea.

– The sea started to boil beneath us. The swell of the ship’s engine filled the boat with water. It was indescribable, I will never forget it. Those who sat at the boats bottom drowned first, and that was the children.

Eventually the boat breaks in two and everyone falls off. Or down. Ahmad has a six-year-old girl on his arm. Her mother despairs, the girl’s two brothers have already drowned at sea, they are gone. “Please, help my daughter!” are the mother’s last panic-stricken words before she too disappears.

– “Mister, hold me up!” the girl called and held onto my neck. I lifted her as high as I could. But the waves were high. She kept asking when the coast guard would come and save us. I told her “We live together or we die together, I will not leave you”, says Ahmad.

He and the girl are alone on the drift of the waves. The wind blows towards Turkey. For a while Ahmad finds some drifting wood to hold on to. But a wave takes it. The waves hit the girl, her face.

– I saw that she was starting to drown, but I couldn’t do anything even though I had promised her. Does that make me her killer? She died in my arms … I put her with the life jacket on her back, and said “Rest in peace. It will be good now, there is nothing left in life for you. Your brothers died, your mother died. Rest in peace”.

Ahmad is almost paralyzed from shock, cold and exhaustion. But he is swimming for his life. Night is turning into day. Suddenly he is closing in on twelve people from the boat. They are alive and one of them reach out with a hand. They have held on to the wreck of the boat. Dead people hang from it. Together they drift towards the Turkish coast. They reach a cliff. It is slippery and sharp and the waves make the attempts to get up violent. One woman hits her head and dies.

– It was so cold. We tried to become warm with stones and by holding each other. People started to come out by the beach and we called and waved, but no one saw us. That was when I decided to swim the last distance.

After nearly twelve hours of struggle for his and his travel companions’ lives, Ahmad swims the last 2 kilometers to land. He staggers up on the shore and is transported by ambulance to the hospital. He thinks he is safe.

But he is not. And neither are the others from the boat.

The other eleven men from the boat are picked up from the cliff by a smaller coast guard boat. They are wet, cold and in shock. But instead of being taken to land, to a hospital, they have to go with the boat and pick up dead bodies from the sea. For over an hour they go and pick up bodies instead of receiving medical attention.

Ahmad is at the hospital for a couple of hours. He rambles and feels guilt because he could not rescue the six-year-old girl. He and the eleven surviving men are taken to Altinova Jandarma, a military police station. They are held captive and are interrogated. None of them know why they are not released.

– I asked them every day, when will we get out? Why are you doing this? But there was no answer. During the first three days some organisation came with clothes and crackers, but after that no one was let in to see us. When someone was there the police pretended that everything was alright, but when they left they changed completely, says Ahmad.

Turkish and some international press have reported that one or two boats were wrecked on the night between January 4 and 5. But when the news is out any outside attention disappears. None of the survivors on the military police station get help to reach their relatives. How they are treated is closest described as torture.

– We were forced to look at the dead people from the boat. Not pictures, but the actual bodies. They took us in one by one and wanted us to identify them. I was beside myself and couldn’t understand why or how they could do this to us.

Ahmad panics and starts to shake inside the Jandarma. But the treatment continues.

–We were forced to work for food. We shoveled coal from the backyard. If we didn’t do what they said they gave us no food and hit us with sticks.

Some of the survivors decide to go on a food strike, but none of the police take them seriously. “Suit yourselves”.

After 15 days in captivity, without knowing why they were arrested or how long they were to stay, the twelve survivors from a boat of 52 were released. At the time 29 bodies have been found. The youngest wore a water-filled diaper. The picture of the girl that Ahmed tried to save, in her pink jacket and blue jeans, has circulated online. On the picture her black hair on the beach resembles a macabre gloria. A six-year-old girl on her way to the EU with her mother and two brothers to be able to live. The only way there left them at the mercy of an illegal and dangerous business run by a smuggler mafia associated with the Turkish authorities.

They never reached the EU tonight. The EU, which has given Turkey three billion to deal with the situation such as the one with the utterly insecure flight route over the Aegean Sea. The route that families and young men take every night, every day of the year. 30–40 boats still leave desolate beaches in Turkey every day. Many arrive and a new long journey towards asylum and residence permit is begun. But far too many never reach the shores and the shiny emergency blankets, soap bubbles and the warming tea of the voluntary workers. During 2016 there are already 158 deaths on the Mediterranean. 158 when this is written. 158 that we know of. Because who keeps track of the boats that are forced to go illegally protected by darkness and difficult weather? Who writes a passenger list on an illegal journey controlled by the mafia in the worst kept secret in the country? No, no one.

Why didn’t the Turkish coast guard show up as they promised?

Their office is in the harbor of Dikili. It was around this little Turkish coastal town that the dead and the survivors came on the morning of January 5. The coastguards cannot say what happened. But they were out that night, helping another boat. They show us their film footage.

Either they were tired of SOS calls from boats with engine trouble. Or there was an economic agreement with the team of smugglers on land not to pick them up. Or Ahmad’s boat was confused with the other one, the boat that had similar difficulties that same night. The coast guard was there and saved people. But no one knows how many boats leave the Turkish coast. “And God knows how many bodies are out there” says one of the officials at the Dikili coastguard after Ahmed’s boat has sunk. No one knows.

Ahmad and the eleven other men were released, and put on a bus to Izmir. Together with two of the other men he has travelled to another location and wants to find a new way to reach safety in the EU. It is from here that he tells his part of the story. At this time, he and his new friends from the boat are just as scared of the smugglers as they are of the military police, the jandarma.

– Why does the world let us who try to reach safety die? Why does no one see what is happening and open the way for us who need to live in Europe. This way just becomes an illegal business where people forge papers and manage to get in, while children are left to drown.

Like Ahmad and the other 52 people on the boat at 11.45 PM, January 4, 2016. On a cold, rainy and stormy sea, with no attempts to help from the responsible authorities. Left to their own devices. All while the EU promises billions to Turkey.

This story is translated from swedish webbpublication KIT and is written by Annah Björk and researched by Mattias Beijmo. Thanks for the translation LH Bergstrom.

Mark.
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Jan 28 2016 00:09

Greek migration minister Yiannis Mouzalas claims Belgian interior minister called for push backs at sea saying 'I'm afraid I don't care if you drown them'

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Jan 27 2016 21:10

Report on Greek push backs from 2013

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Jan 28 2016 20:06

Mouzalas speaking at Syriza meeting in Thessaloniki yesterday, confronted by protests against the Evros fence and the treatment of migrants and volunteers.

Εκδήλωση του ΣΥΡΙΖΑ Θεσ/νίκης,παρέμβαση διαδηλωτών και εντάσεις

Mark.
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Jan 28 2016 13:14

Samos today

Quote:

As I write I am looking out from our house at 5 rescue boats just off the coast searching for bodies. It is 8.30am and the weather is cold but sunny. The sea is calm. As yet we are not clear how many people have perished but we know from the few survivors that there are likely to be many dead. One mother talks of watching her 2 children drown in front of her.

Yesterday evening around 6pm we had a phone call from a close friend who had just picked up from the road a young Afghani man who was in a very bad state and wanted some advice about where to to take him. We replied that he should go to the hospital. The refugee was not able to say much as he was so cold and traumatised. But from what we could understand he was on his own and that he had been in the water for around 9 hours before he made it to the Samos coast.

We were immediately very concerned as it seemed very unlikely that he could be traveling alone. It is now clear that he was not on his own when he left Turkey. He was with around 40 others. When the boat sank he swam.

As yet we have few details about the rest, although a small number of survivors were found during the night.

From various sources we have now learnt that there was no search and rescue during the night. From around 6am port police officers have been on the beaches looking for survivors and bodies. But the rescue boats we are now seeing were not dispatched until around 8am. We have not seen any helicopters although one was reported earlier.

Why so late?

What if these people were not refugees but European tourists lost at sea?

Why was there no major rescue operation launched as soon as there was any sense that another major tragedy was in the making?

When, when when will we all join our voices and say Enough! Y Basta! This slaughter of the innocents can not continue. It must stop.

UPDATE

It is now 1.10 pm. All morning we have been watching search and rescue boats, plus local fishing boats and at least 2 helicopters scouring the sea just off the coast by Agios Konstantinos. So far we have heard of 13 bodies being recovered but there are more for sure. Bizarrely a local fisherman has just laid his nets right by the area where the bodies are being found.

A close friend has been calling every half an hour as she searches along the beaches. Like many she is devastated. She talks of living in a war zone now. Is this what the EU wants with all its attention focused on tighter border control, data processing and hot spot nonsense. What about the lives of the refugees?

source

Mark.
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Jan 28 2016 15:12

Moria: when UN camp failed, volunteers built their own

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Jan 28 2016 15:17

In German

Quote:
#volunteer from #germany got arrested for human trafficking on #lesvos. Drove 6 #refugeesgr in her car 2 camp. https://twitter.com/koppeu1/status/692691262672146434

source

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Jan 28 2016 22:15

From the Samos Refugees Facebook page, posted at the start of January so the situation could have changed.

Samos Refugees / Πρόσφυγες στη Σαμο

Food for Thought

The authorities on the island have a duty to ensure that the refugees are fed. It is one of their core responsibilities. On Samos the authorities have left it to the volunteers and NGOs to fulfill this task. At the same time they have made this task more difficult and inhumane by insisting that no food provision can be made inside the camp.

With the freezing weather the issue of feeding all the refugees on Samos becomes ever more important. It is critical to their welfare that they are able to eat good nutritious food. It is ridiculous to make this point as it is so self-evidently obvious. Furthermore it serves no one if refugees are hungry.

The food security of the refugees, especially for the hundreds in the now 'open' detention centre has improved in recent weeks. MSF (Doctors without Borders) now provides a meal at lunch time, volunteer groups provide weekend breakfasts on a regular basis, and more recently a group of activists have created a kitchen and provide a hot meal in the evening. Likewise at the Port where the Syrian refugees wait to be processed an array of NGOs and volunteers provide meals.

But why do the police at the Detention Centre demand that all food like the clothes that volunteer groups bring must be distributed outside the fences and gates of the Centre? Such an insistence routinely humiliates the refugees who have to form lines on the road outside by the garbage bins. It is not uncommon for there to be scuffles and panic as people push to get their food or some clothes. Part of this problem stems from the complete exclusion of the refugees from all aspects of their welfare. The processes they experience whilst on Samos demands passivity and patience. And this is felt even more sharply in places such as the detention centre where there are so many things that could be done to lift the dismal conditions. So many of the refugees suffer from this forced idleness and are enthusiastic when there is a chance to do something. But this is not in the minds of the authorities. Instead the refugees are excluded and left in the dark. This is one of the factors that can spark chaos simply because none of the refugees knows what is going on and is desperate not to be excluded.

Moving all food and aid distribution into the Centre itself would do nothing more than make a slight improvement in the conditions for the refugees. But at least it would allow for the possibilities of more organised, effective and above all respectful distribution to be implemented. In the old camp for example, we have heard of how each dormitory would nominate a representative who would order and fetch the food for all the room. This avoided the 'cattle-feeding' scenes that you can sometimes see at the Centre when people have to form long queues. Such a system would not be difficult to implement in the Centre.

It seems unlikely that current policy will change. In large measure this is one of the direct consequences of having the Greek police as the lead agency in the management and welfare of refugees. As we have noted over many years, the mandate of the police has been clearly defined entirely within a criminal 'justice' and penal policy approach. Hence refugees are arrested and incarcerated in Detention Centres which run according to prison guidelines. Or at least that it is the intention. Moreover the police starved of resources have been pressed to focus all their attention and resources on processing the new arrivals, and in the case of Samos, moving them on to Athens at the earliest opportunity. Even if there was a desire to do something about refugee welfare and meeting the basic needs of the refugees, the police simply lack the resources to do very much. But the crunch problem is the focus and defining the refugee exodus primarily as an issue of control and counter terrorism and not as a humanitarian catastrophe. Until that fundamental shift occurs then the Greek Police will remain as the lead agency in places such as the Centre. In these circumstances it is hard to be optimistic that conditions for refugees will fundamentally improve.

Nevertheless, the necessity to feed the refugees in the Centre means that the principal food providers have some power in this matter. Maybe the Police could be made to consider alternatives if the main providers made it a condition of their intervention that all food should, wherever possible, be cooked and distributed in the Centre? But it is not clear if this power will be exercised. The Greek state demands total compliance with its decisions and policies as a condition of an NGO's entry to Greece and hence Samos. Many of them, including MSF feel that they have no alternative but to comply if they are to be allowed in and even require their workers to sign contracts which forbids them from challenging any Greek authority or decision. This is part of the price they pay to come to Samos to help the refugees. Step out of line and you are out and in the past 3 months we have seen some seasoned and senior NGO personnel rapidly removed from Samos following 'confrontations' with the police or the authorities. Our experience to date is that most of the NGOs here are fearful to rock the boat. A cause of further pessimism.

Doing Things Better

So many times over the past year we have seen how refugees working alone or with activists do things better. It is the refugees who best identify those amongst them who need special attention. It has been the refugees who have shown us how to provide meals for hundreds without any chaos and with humour and respect. We have seen so many men and women stand up and take responsibility for their group of refugees. The groups which form on the journey to Samos are often strongly glued together. They rarely move on to Athens until all of them have got their papers even when this can lead to significant delays. It is the group, through sharing, that ensures their survival and gives them a crucial sense of security and confidence. Many refugees would be stuck on Samos if their group had not managed to find their ferry fare.

These strengths and talents are not recognised and so are never used. This is not only the case for many of the state agencies, but includes many NGO's and many volunteers and their groups. Invariably it leads to refugees being seen as passive victims who are cut out of some the very few areas where they could participate and make a difference. Again an obvious example is meal preparation and provision. Recently, a group of activists have created a kitchen at the Detention Centre which provides a wonderful example of involving refugees in the provision of a hot nutritious evening meal which they prepare and cook alongside the activists. As one of the refugees slicing vegetables told us “we feel human again doing this”. Of similar importance is that it leads to meals which are attractive and appetizing to the refugees, something which can not be guaranteed with the bought in meals from local hotels over which the refugees have no input.

(Needless to say this kitchen is outside the gates with all the difficulties (no running water, no sinks etc) that involves. In past few days the Police have asked them to move. They want them away from the roadside and relocated on the hill above the camp. Why is it so important to the Police that this splendid kitchen should be out of sight?)

We are not short of similar examples which illustrate that a thought through food policy for refugees is much more than putting food on a plate. In a context where the psychological needs of often traumatised people are almost completely neglected, involving refugees in the preparing, cooking and distribution of meals, which in turn are appetising and nutritious can do much to promote their well-being.

Mark.
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Jan 28 2016 19:47

Natasha Tsangarides - Why are volunteers being treating like criminals in Greece?

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Jan 28 2016 21:15
Platanos Refugee Solidarity, Lesvos wrote:
Platanos, as part of its solidarity action for financially challenged families in Lesvos, distributed boxes of basic food items and large packets of legumes and pasta to nine families in the village of Lepetymnos, two days ago. While we don’t believe these people’s financial problems will be solved this way, we decided to share part of the donations we have received with them. We thank all of you who, through your donations, give us the opportunity to continue our active solidarity to the refugees and, to the extent that it’s possible, the people of Lesvos.
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Jan 28 2016 22:12

An old post from the Samos Chronicles blog, which has some of the more perceptive writing I've seen on the crisis as viewed from the islands. Again the situation may have changed, particularly with more NGOs arriving.

Something or Nothing: Helping Refugees on Samos

There has been so little time to stop and think. Since May this year the daily arrival of refugees coming to Samos across the sea from Turkey has transformed the daily lives of many here. The scale of this flow of humanity is hard to grasp. Everything seems to change. You look differently at the sea and sky now worrying about the waves and the wind. Above all you are endlessly alert, for although you know there are going to be arrivals you never know when, where or in what circumstances. If you can, you go down to the landings. This is a very critical time for the refugees. You can’t hang around. Especially now when the weather and sea at night is much colder than during the summer months. But also because now we are seeing many more babies, young children, pregnant women, older and disabled people amongst the refugees. They are vulnerable and find the sea journey and all that it entails waiting in the forests and shores of Turkey very difficult.

The reason we think and act as we do has one very simple explanation. We are human. How is it possible to be human and do nothing? Every day we see people who have suffered and are still suffering. People who are forced to face danger in order to find safety. It is beyond wrong.

From the ‘system’ nothing has been provided for the welfare of the refugees arriving on Samos. NOTHING! The only exception has been the rescue efforts of the coastguards, Frontex and now some volunteer rescue craft from Scandinavia. For the past months they have saved many lives. But other than the police who register and process the arriving refugees we have seen nobody.

We don’t have much time for the institutions and parliaments of the powerful. They are not known for their humanity and concern for the poor, anywhere or at any time. Samos provides a classic case study. Even on impoverished Samos there are resources which could make a difference. There is the army which could so easily patrol the shores and pick up and care for the arrivals; there are empty buildings which with little work could be made into refugee shelters and so on. As one experienced aid worker told us, it is worse than working in some of the poorest countries in the world. There there was absolutely nothing whereas here on Samos we know that there are resources and facilities which could make a difference. But they refuse to allow this. Why? It is almost impossible to explain and certainly impossible to excuse.

These are acts of cruelty; not to do something that would help when you have the means to do it. A big surprise is that ‘power’ does not seem to mind being unmasked for the horror it brings to so many; it does not seem to mind that its claims to be built on principles and values such as freedom of movement, solidarity, peace, prosperity and human dignity are stripped bare and revealed as empty words. It makes you think!

From our observations, whenever the agents of the system have to inter-act with the refugees directly it is more often than not dehumanising. There is often a lot of shouting (usually in English and /or Greek which means nothing to most of the waiting refugees); demanding that they form lines or sit and wait in certain places. They are treated like the goats on the island. This is not the way to treat anyone let alone those who have fled their homes and countries and just made a perilous sea crossing. Over the months we have seen a number of police change their behaviour and become much more understanding and gentle. But there are still many who humiliate the refugees and make life difficult for volunteers and activists. We continue to experience police harassment when giving lifts to refugees. And this is hardly surprising for the front line behaviours of some police reflect and represent one powerful dimension in the system’s response to the refugees; namely they are not like us so we don’t have to treat them as we would our own families and friends.

So whilst we have no expectations of the system, of authority at whatever level, its extreme abandonment of people running for their lives and washing up on the shores of the EU provokes anger and dismay. What does this say about the place where we live and the world we live in. The very system which is so deeply implicated in the causes of the refugee crisis turns its back when the victims wash up on their shores. It is a crime that refugees are dying every week making the sea crossing from Turkey. It can be stopped immediately by providing access to ferries and opening a safe land passage in the north of Greece.

The mega NGOs are no better. Medicin Sans Frontier (MSF) are now here and creating a significant team which might make a difference. But as for the rest of the big humanitarian NGOs; nothing. Many on Samos have one question for you: Where are you?

Volunteers and Activists

In contrast to authority the humanitarian responses of volunteers and activists have been extraordinary in trying to meet some of the basic needs of the refugees who briefly pass through Samos. Dictated by daily fluctuations in arrivals they have fed, clothed, rescued, comforted and supported thousands of refugees. They are the front line.

This effort has been almost entirely driven from the bottom up. Individuals, small groups of friends, tourists and visitors, rather than organisations have been at the forefront in giving immediate practical aid to the refugees. Over the summer a momentum developed as more people understood that the best way to help was to go to the ports and see what was needed. Food, clothes, shoes, baby stuff, toys all came to be supplied on a daily basis by an ad hoc collection of volunteers, who as time has passed have come to know one another and work in co-operation.

The realities confronting us are what drives our actions; the needs of the refugees in the port are obvious, and we have no need for some sort of co-ordinating committee. Also there are no limits to what is needed. So we must do what we can and what we are happy/good at. All of us have lives away from the port so it is not easy to commit to a rota or timetable. These are huge challenges for many of the volunteers as it is so difficult to stop in the face of so much need. Yet it is incredible how much time is given and how many give food in particular, on a daily basis. So whilst there maybe some loose ends it has worked and endured for some months now.

And we have got better. Clothing stores have been created alongside collections; there is now a former shop in Agios Konstantinos which is kept in constant readiness with the supplies needed for the early morning boat arrivals; a relationship has been created with a local restaurant that can supply a hot meal; endless relationships with shops and pharmacies that discount for the refugees have been established and we fund raise. And we have improved our ways of helping.

We no longer see cans of beer being left at the port and rarely food containing pork meat. There are endless moving scenes as people come down to help and even though most only stay on the island for less than 2 days it can still be enough time for some firm friendships to be forged.

Practical pressing needs set the context for all this effort. Organising food, making and distributing sandwiches with the refugees involved, getting to the beaches, finding the right sized shoes and clothes for wet people; transporting them to the ports or the medical centre/hospital; getting them to a wi fi café and giving basic information are what dominate the days.

There can be moments of misunderstandings and sometimes language barriers. The refugees have absolutely no idea who we are when we turn up on the beaches and at the ports. So it is not entirely surprising when some – and a surprisingly small number – think we are paid Aid workers and demand specific services on the expectation that we are being paid to do this. (So we have had some bizarre moments when we have had to explain to a young man why we cannot provide the jacket with desired label or why we don’t offer a menu from which to choose their supper.) But these are not common. It is amazing how quickly they grasp who and what we are and actively want to help us and embrace us with much love and enthusiasm, when we ourselves feel we have been able to give them so little.

In the limited time available we strive to help in ways that build and strengthen their solidarity. We always try to get the refugees involved as they are not passive victims and not the least once they have been processed by the port police there is a lot of hanging around and many of the refugees want to be involved and doing something to help one another. For many, the benefits of solidarity have been proved during the journey and especially in the sea crossing to Samos. For the Syrians in particular, the exodus has many implications and consequences. It is a great leveller where people often from wide backgrounds who had little contact with one another in Syria are now literally in the same boat facing danger together. Whereas the civil war and chaos of Syria deepened divisions, the exodus on the other hand brings them together in new ways and with new challenges. It is interesting to see how many of the ‘boat groups’ stick together and plan to move as one on through Europe and up towards Germany or Sweden.

Sharing is emphasised and people are challenged if they take more when others have little. The groups on many occasions have made sure that that they can all move off Samos together by collecting for the fares of the minority who have no money. For the refugees their solidarities are going to be their greatest strength during the onward journeys and beyond. After all although they are running from war, their common destinations of Germany or Sweden are hardly paradises. There are difficult times ahead where their solidarities are going to be very important to their well-being.

Only occasionally do we see volunteers behaving as if they were the story. Some leap at the chance to be interviewed by any passing media, or take ‘selfies’ as they hand out some bottles of water and then broadcast it on their Facebook pages. But they are the exception. There have been some visiting activists who arrive wearing T shirts identifying themselves as something or other and that seems odd simply because it is so unusual. Modesty and low profile would best characterise most of the volunteers we see in action.

We now have a Facebook page where we post smaller pieces and updates. This can be found at https://www.facebook.com/Samos-Refugees-Πρόσφυγες-στη-Σαμο-876937855721695

Mark.
Online
Joined: 11-02-07
Jan 29 2016 11:34
Amr Magdi wrote:

Just told by activists who witnessed an Iranian detainee having a heart attack in custody and Idomeni Police was just watching.

@ganobi the guy is around 40 and police watched him in terrible medical condition for 30 min at least before calling an ambulance.

Peter Bouckaert wrote:
Iranian had asthmatic & cardiac attack at Idomeni police station, police waiting more than 1/2 hour b4 calling ambulance. Unacceptable.
Mark.
Online
Joined: 11-02-07
Jan 29 2016 17:14

Given some misleading claims being made about where people currently arriving in Greece are coming from...

UNHCR statistics for refugee arrivals in Greece so far this year

Mark.
Online
Joined: 11-02-07
Jan 29 2016 22:47

Video - Larissa and Aharnaikos players in sit down protest against deaths of children in the Aegean

Report on this in Greek

Edit: report in English

Mark.
Online
Joined: 11-02-07
Jan 29 2016 22:07

An NGOish view on relations between volunteers and NGOs on Lesvos. It would be interesting to see the reactions of volunteers to this. I get the feeling it misses an awful lot out.

Refugee flows to Lesvos: evolution of a humanitarian response

From the intro to an earlier article by the same writer, now program director for a small NGO on the island:

Quote:
This guest blog post comes to us from Joel Hernandez. Joel is an intern at the Migration Policy Institute and a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, with a focus on International Law and Humanitarianism and a background in legal assistance and advocacy on behalf of migrants and refugees. This post is based on his experience working on the Greek island of Lesvos in July and August of 2015.

It might also be interesting to consider how this kind of background colours his interpretation of the situation on Lesvos.

Mark.
Online
Joined: 11-02-07
Jan 29 2016 22:31

New law for volunteer/NGO registration on the islands (in Greek)

Hopefully someone will come up with a translation and some analysis of this.

Mark.
Online
Joined: 11-02-07
Jan 30 2016 12:35

Another sinking on the crossing to Lesvos, 39 deaths reported

Mark.
Online
Joined: 11-02-07
Jan 30 2016 19:22

Golden Dawn and anti-fascist demos in Athens today, despite the first ever Syriza ban on demonstrations. This follows migrants being attacked by fascists yesterday, and visiting German neo-nazis being beaten up by anti-fascists in a restaurant in Monastiraki the night before.