Tag Archives: Greece

Photojournalist Michael Trammer being attacked on Lesvos island in Greece yesterday while a woman tried to help him

Violence has escalated on the island of Lesvos in Greece since Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to “open the doors” for migrants to enter Europe. His announcement late last week followed the death of 33 Turkish soldiers in an air strike in Idlib province in northwestern Syria.

Since then there have been reports of an increase in refugees and migrants arriving in Lesvos with some telling journalists that they were offered a free boat ride, while it’s elsewhere being reported that guards on Greece’s northeastern land border with Turkey used tear gas to stop refugees and migrants from entering Greece.

In turn there have been reports of volunteers and journalists being attacked by people who don’t want refugees on the island. Irish GP Dr Nicola Cochrane, volunteering at the overcrowded Moria refugee camp in Lesbos, which has a capacity for 3,000 people but where more than 20,000 people are now residing, has told The Irish Times about how she was targeted by a group of men with “planks of wood and baseball bats” yesterday.

The Hope Project, run by Eric and Philippa Kempson on Lesvos provides support for refugees on the island which overlooks the Aegean Sea and the Turkish coastline from its northern border.

They write:

We have woken up in full fascist Greece today. The events of the last days have been hard to comprehend. All foreigners are now living in fear.

Yesterday refugees were attacked along with journalists and volunteers. It’s hard to explain the fear of the mob until you experience it. Many people are utterly traumatized.

All rescue groups have stood down through fear for their safety.

The mayor of Mytilene has refused to allow refugees to be transported from the north to Moria. The result of this is that refugees arriving are left on the shore with no help and no where to go. With no food or water in wet clothes.

The residents burned down stage two transit camp last night. Volunteers were attacked by gangs with bats and chains!

Some volunteers were unable to return to their homes because of mobs of angry people blocking roads. The government of Greece has basically suspended all human rights!!

The Hope Project will remain closed today and untill we can guarantee the safety of the refugees attending. A sad and scary time.

The Hope Project (Facebook)

Pics: Dromografos

Meanwhile…

Update:

Lesbos fears repeat of 2015 as refugees head for Greek island (The Guardian)

Clashes as thousands gather at Turkish border to enter Greece (The Guardian)

Caoimhe Butterly: Inside the refugee camp (The Irish Examiner)

Previously: Lawless Lesbos

Just now.

In northern Greece.

Clashes are taking place between riot police and migrants and asylum seekers attempting to cross into North Macedonia from outside the Diavata reception camp near Thessaloniki.

Journalist Daphne Tolis has been live-streaming from the area on Facebook (above).

She has reported that the police have thrown stun grenades and tear gas at the crowds.

New clashes outside Diavata migrant camp (Ekathimerini)

Daphne Tolis

UPDATE:

Migrant rescue ship Aquarius

AFP reports:

European countries faced pressure on Tuesday to resolve a fresh standoff with the operators of the migrant rescue ship Aquarius which is stranded for the second time in the Mediterranean carrying 141 people.

France said it was in touch with the other EU nations to “rapidly” find a port where the Aquarius could dock after it was refused entry by Italy and Malta, the two countries closest to its current location.

The Aquarius, which was left stranded with 630 migrants on board in June after being turned away by Rome and Valletta, resumed rescue operations off the Libyan coast last week.

France again voiced disapproval of Italy’s “very tough political stance” — milder language than two months ago when President Emmanuel Macron accused his Italian partners of “cynicism and irresponsibility”.

The 141 migrants on board the Aquarius were picked up on Friday in two separate operations and are in a stable condition, the French charity that operates the Aquarius, SOS Mediterranee, said.

EU faces fresh standoff over Aquarius migrant boat (Yahoo)

Pic: GavinLeeBBC

Meanwhile…

Via IOM UN Migration

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A look at the facts surrounding the Greek bailout that has supposedly saved the country’s economy.

TeleSUR English posts on social media:

The IMF and the EU nearly destroyed Greece with its financial bailout. Now, the country is going to market and being sold piece by piece, as almost every industry becomes private.

TeleSUR English

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A fire at Camp Moria on Lesvos island, Greece last night

Last night.

A fire broke out at Camp Moria on Lesvos island in Greece.

According to UNHCR figures, as of September 13, there were 5,600 people seeking refuge on the island where there are facilities with a capacity for 3,500.

More than 94,000 people have reached Lesvos island, by sea, so far this year.

Last night, The Guardian reported:

Thousands of refugees detained at one of Greece’s biggest camps, on the island of Lesbos, have fled the facility amid scenes of mayhem after some reportedly set fire to it, local police have said.

Up to 4,000 panic-stricken men, women and children rushed out of the barbed-wire-fenced installation following rumours of mass deportations to Turkey.

Between 3,000 and 4000 migrants have fled the camp of Moria,” a police source said, attributing the exodus to fires that rapidly swept through the facility because of high winds.

Approximately 150 unaccompanied children, controversially housed at the camp, had been evacuated to a childrens’ village, the police source added. No one was reported to have been injured in the blaze.

But damage was widespread and with tents and prefabricated housing units going up in flames, the Greek channel Skai TV, described the site as “a war zone”.

 

Readers may recall how, prior to March 20, refugees arriving on the Greek islands were registered at “hot spots” before receiving paperwork to travel onto Athens and continue their journey into Europe.

From November 2015, there were signs that this might change with some nationalities (people from Pakistan, for example) not being given the opportunity to register and continue their journey into Europe.

But for the vast majority, especially Syrian refugees, the process was relatively smooth and quick.

All that changed when the EU and Turkey struck a deal which caused outcry across many working in the humanitarian sector.

On Lesvos island, where there is almost 65% over capacity, the situation and conditions are dire and individuals waiting on Lesvos are desperate to leave the island and head to the mainland in the hope of better conditions and, eventually, continuing their journey.

This desperation has led refugees to risk everything they have, again, to try and make it off the island and onto the mainland.

Further to this…

Emma Hett, from Dublin, volunteered on Lesvos and, later the Greek mainland, from March to July this year. During this time, she worked with many people seeking refuge who had arrived on the Greek island from Turkey.

Some months after the March deal, Emma also spoke with several refugees who explained to her what options are available for those stranded on Lesvos without papers but who are desperate to leave.

She writes:

Due to the high levels of checks and police on the water, people who wish to leave Lesvos are forced to attempt the process through established smuggler networks.

The smuggling rings in Lesvos operate in tandem with each other and so there is little or no conflict or tension between them.

The option of a travelling in a small dinghy from Lesvos to Athens, in the same way most travelled from Turkey to Lesvos, is not an option here.

Instead, refugees stranded on Lesvos, desperate to reach the mainland in search of better conditions, are forced to pay large amounts of cash to smugglers if they are to have any hope of leaving.

Finding a smuggler to help get you off Lesvos isn’t a problem. And you don’t even need to go looking. The short answer is one doesn’t find a smuggler, a smuggler finds you.

On Lesvos, the majority of smugglers are from Pakistan or Afghanistan. However, they are directed and controlled by Greek smugglers. The Greek smuggler operates through the Pakistani or Afghani smugglers who make direct contact with refugees.

They approach refugees in camps and anywhere where refugees may be gathered (in certain places around Mytilene or at the beaches). These smugglers usually speak several languages (Urdu, Greek, sometimes a little Arabic but usually not English). They operate in conjunction with other smugglers on the island, and throughout Greece, and are usually well connected.

Once the refugees have agreed to travel with the smugglers to the mainland, they are offered the opportunity to stay in one of the several smuggler houses in Mytilene. They usually pay roughly €100 per month to cover expenses while living there.

This is very appealing for many of the refugees who are living in either dire conditions in the Moria detention centre or outside in the forests surrounding Mytilene. According to Sami – a Pakistani refugee who was desperate to leave Lesvos and contacted a smuggling ring to help him do so – in one house, there were over 100 people resident at one time.

Yet, for many, this is better than staying in Moria, illustrating just how poor the conditions are in Moria.

To buy a ferry ticket allowing people to leave the island, you must show your identification paperwork. Refugees can buy identification papers for roughly €200.

These are always original papers, usually from Syrian and Afghani refugees, and they are received from mafia contacts in FYROM (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).

The mafia source these papers from those already off the island and travelling on through Europe. In return for selling their papers, the smuggler takes these refugees the remainder of the journey across the border. These papers are then sent back to smugglers on Lesvos who can sell them on. Papers are sold on Lesvos for €200. For a family of five, the cost is significant.

In addition, some local residents in Mytilene have sold their resident papers (Greek papers) to refugees to allow them to travel on a ferry to the mainland.

It’s worth keeping in mind the desperate situation local people on Lesvos are facing with, first, a hugely damaging economic crisis, immediately  followed by the refugee crisis which has forced many, who are dependent on tourism, into financial difficulties.

Some hotels in Molyvos, in northern Lesvos, have reported that hotel bookings are down 95%, forcing some to close for yet another season.

Most registration papers that are bought are from Syrian and Afghani nationals who are generally the first nationalities to be registered and moved through the system quicker than people from other countries.

For some nationalities (Iranian, Pakistani, etc) these papers can be difficult to use (aesthetically, they look very different). Another option open to those desperate to leave the islands is to buy “Protection Papers.” These are papers that are given to individuals on Lesvos who have lodged asylum claims and have received the first acceptance (allowing them to travel throughout Greece). These are referred to as “White Cards.”

Two years ago, these were coloured red but have more recently been printed in white (International Protection Application Card). The going price for these cards is €90. These are given to all nationalities so they have the added benefit of appearing more authentic.

While registration papers and white cards are relatively cheap for those travelling solo (maximum €200), they are also known for being unreliable. Port police scrutinise the papers and look out for those travelling on somebody else’s papers.

Another option available is to buy a “Red Passport”, an EU passport, which, while prohibitively expensive for most at €1,000, stand a better chance of not being scrutinised at the port.

The €1,000 passport option is a one-off attempt (if you are arrested then the problem is yours and the smugglers will not provide a second “free” attempt, as is the case with some €200 registration paper “deals”).

Obviously, the cost of being smuggled is high and it is done only in cash-in-hand transactions. This can lead to a vulnerability for smugglers who could be caught being handed large quantities of cash.

However, they have found a solution to protect themselves. Money is transferred globally to those who need cash for these transactions via Western Union. When the refugee agrees to travel, via smuggler to the mainland, no cash is exchanged on Lesvos. The smuggler network in Athens operates the cash transfer.

For example, a cousin or friend of a refugee on Lesvos, wanting to travel, will meet a smuggler contact in Athens, at a secret location, and hand money over that has been sent to them via Western Union. This way, the smuggler ring on Lesvos never has to handle any cash.

Once confirmation of the transaction carried out in Athens is received by the smuggler in Lesvos, the papers are handed over.

It is the responsibility of the refugee to buy the ferry ticket themselves. From Lesvos, there are two ferry operators; Blue Star (Government) and Hellenic Seaways (private). In order to buy a ferry ticket, you must show valid identification to the tour operators/ticket sellers.

So, prior to buying a ticket, you have to have either bought or faked registration papers or some form of identity card.

The first step to getting onto the ferry, and off the island, is to present yourself with your papers at the port. The police then check the papers and they give permission for you to buy a ticket in the kiosk in the port area.

The local shops in Mytilene which also sell ferry tickets are more risky for refugees and they have been known to call the police from the Moria detention centre when a refugee has presented themselves to buy a ticket and they feel the papers are fake.

Therefore, it is safer for the refugees to buy their ferry tickets in the port.

Sometimes, when someone attempts to buy ferry tickets in the kiosk, the operator will not issue the ticket based on the presumption the papers/ID are fake. When this happens, the refugee phones the smuggler who, in turn, phones the agent and resolves the issue, after which the ferry ticket is issued.

Most of the Pakistani and Afghani smugglers operating on Lesvos, have been living on the island for a long time, speak fluent Greek, and can communicate with the kiosk agent directly.

While a smuggler is on the phone sorting out this issue, it is out of sight of the port police, so there is no risk to the refugee being caught at this time. In addition, there is no risk to the ferry operator getting into trouble from issuing the tickets and they receive extra money for issuing the tickets from the smugglers.

Once the refugee has been issued their ferry tickets (approximately €45, from Lesvos to Athens), they can attempt to board the ferry. Some are successful and board the ferry and travel to Athens. Others are stopped when trying to board and are arrested by the police.

There are also a large number of plain-clothed police officers in the port area so, until the ferry departs Lesvos, the refugees are on edge.

If arrested, they are usually handled very violently by police. The police then rip up the papers and ticket, bundle the refugee into a waiting police van and, once the ferry has left (and any other suspected refugees have also been arrested and placed into the van), they are taken into a closed detention facility inside Moria hotspot.

There is no formal punishment for refugees, for this offence, but access to facilities is decreased (i.e. less food) when held in the closed detention facility. They are usually held here for two to three days, before being released. For the majority of refugees, this is not a deterrent. It just forces them to find another €200 and try again.

Many people have also tried to travel to Athens in shipping containers. Some are successful but the majority are not. This shows the risks some are willing to take, out of desperation, to leave Lesvos and the dire conditions they are faced with.

The smuggler mafia network on Lesvos also has contacts within the Greek police force. This is appealing to refugees as it increases their confidence that they are more likely to be successful.

There is the option of paying an additional €1,800 to the police, via the smugglers, to ensure they aren’t stopped when attempting to board the ferry. For many though, this isn’t an option as it is too expensive.

Instead, they attempt it without the insider support of the police force and, if they are unsuccessful, they are forced to save up again and attempt the journey for a second or third time.

But for those who have travelled this way, with the support of the police, they have been successful. For others, they take the risk and attempt to board the ferry without bribing the police. What’s clear is that if you have the money to bribe the police, you are more likely to be successful in being smuggled off the island.

This summer, there was another alternative being offered to refugees stranded on Lesvos. A single police officer (operating independently of other police officials) inside Moria, with mafia contacts, was offering to smuggle refugees to Athens for €700.

During one particular week in June, 10 people from Pakistan successfully travelled this way. This is particularly appealing to Pakistani refugees who have, in some cases, been stuck on Lesvos since December and are now desperate to travel to Athens. They are also already significantly indebted to smugglers for their journey from Pakistan to Greece.

They also, aesthetically, don’t look like Syrian refugees and are generally  stopped more often and, in some cases, are on first name terms with the port police, thwarting any chance of future attempts with fake papers.

Some of the Pakistani smugglers on Lesvos, who have lived on the island legally for many years and have EU passports, are married to Greek women. These wives have also become involved with the smuggler operations and travel with a male Pakistani refugee – to make it look like they are a couple. These refugees travel with fake identification cards while the Greek wives travel with original, legitimate paperwork, strengthening their legitimacy.

What is clear, is that the EU Turkey deal has not stemmed the profits being made by the smugglers across Europe. If anything, prices have increased, and refugees, especially those travelling as family units, are sinking further and further into debt in order to travel on and try and build a future.

It all comes down to money, the more you have the more successful your chances are of getting off Lesvos. The less you have, the more desperate and vulnerable you are and therefore the more likely you are to be taken advantage of. As options became more limited for refugees after the EU/Turkey deal in March, the options became more dangerous.

This summer, smugglers offered refugees who had little or no money left another option to fund their journeys, drug smuggling. Refugees were given the option of distributing drugs (on Lesvos this was mostly heroin and cocaine) between the refugee camps on Lesvos to other refugees.

Many have taken up this offer, especially those from poor families who cannot depend on their families to send them additional money to fund their onward journeys. For many, the cost of the journey to get as far as Lesvos has put huge financial pressure on their families at home.

After several failed attempts with faked papers, they are forced to enter the drug smuggling option. This option is also being offered to the unaccompanied minors in camps on Lesvos. This group of refugees are particularly vulnerable and are easy targets for smugglers.

The money made from selling the drugs within the camps is split 50/50 between the smuggler and the refugee. This is a way for the refugee to make money in order to fund their journey ahead.

However, the risk is high – if refugees are caught with the drugs, they are arrested and brought to jail in Mytilene. This would also impact their future chances of gaining asylum in Greece.

Thousands flee as blaze sweeps through Moria refugee camp in Greece (The Guardian)

Pic: Humanity Crew

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Graphics from the UNHCR showing the capacity and occupancy rates at sites for refugees across Greece (top) and the number of people known to have died or gone missing this year, as of August 31, in comparison to 2015

According to the latest figures from the UNHCR, there are now 59,569 refugees and migrants on Greek territory.

The figures also show the following numbers of people on the islands versus the capacity of the facilities available.

Lesbos: 5,388 people versus facilities with a capacity for 3,500.

Chios: 3,316 people versus facilities with a capacity for 1,100.

Samos: 1,351 people versus facilities with a capacity for 850.

Ekathimerini, a daily Greek newspaper which is sold with the International Herald Tribune, in Greece reports:

A year after the European Union launched its refugee sharing plan so member countries could help overwhelmed Greece and Italy less than five percent of the migrants have been relocated.

European Commission figures show that only 4,473 asylum seekers were relocated as of September 1.

The plan is a cornerstone of the EU’s strategy to deal with more than one million people who entered Europe last year in search of sanctuary or jobs. It commits countries to relocate 160,000 refugees from Greece, Italy or any other member state deemed unable to cope by September 2017.

EU Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said Monday that, despite the slow pace, “what we are doing is not insignificant.”

Small percentage of Europe’s migrants relocated (Ekathimerini)

BBC News producer Will Vernon tweets from Lesbos island, Greece where 4,345 people are currently being detained.

Meanwhile…

Last night at the detention centre in Moria, on Lesbos Island:

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Andrew Connolly, for Raw News, reported:

A mass riot has broken out between refugees and police inside the Moria detention centre on the Greek island of Lesbos during the night of April 26.

On Tuesday afternoon, thick, black plumes of smoke could been seen floating above the facility and Raw News witnessed numerous refugees being carried out injured and suffering from tear gas inhalation.

NGO sources inside confirmed that [the] riot started in the wing which detains unaccompanied children, which then intensified after police beat a child, and subsequently used tear gas.

Riots break out at Moria refugee camp in Lesvos Island (Raw News, includes video)

Previously: ‘A Beautiful Thing To Do’

Pic: Emma Hett

Human Rights Watch released a report today in relation to the deportations that have taken place from Greece to Turkey, as part of the EU/Turkey deal – of which Ireland has contributed €22million.

The report paid particular attention to Chios island where the UN claimed 13 people – 11 people from Afghanistan, and two people from the Democratic Republic of Congo – were wrongly deported on April 4.

The report states:

In visits to the VIAL detention center on Chios on April 7 and 8, Human Rights Watch spoke with 12 friends and one relative of 19 Afghans who were deported from Chios on April 4.

Based on those interviews and text messages exchanged between those interviewed and the deportees, Human Rights Watch documented an array of irregularities and violations.

The authorities did not inform people that they were going to be deported, did not tell them where they were being taken, and did not allow some of them to take their personal possessions.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, thirteen of those deported from Chios had expressed a desire to seek asylum in Greece, and that number could be higher,

The Greek authorities appear to have hurried the forced returns from Chios, and the 136 other deportations that day from the nearby island of Lesbos, to meet a publicized deadline for the start of returns under the ill-conceived EU-Turkey deal that went into effect on March 20, 2016.

That deal allows the return of asylum seekers to Turkey on the presumption that Turkey is safe for asylum seekers and refugees.

…The deportations from Chios began around midday on April 3, when Greek police at the VIAL detention facility took dozens of people to the main building [Tabakika] where police and Frontex register new arrivals, and where the Greek asylum service is located.

The authorities separated the 66 people they had identified for return, witnesses said. The 12 friends and one relative of the 19 deportees, who did not want their names published, told Human Rights Watch that the police had called people on the false pretext that they were to be registered, including for asylum.

“Salim,” a 24-year-old man from Afghanistan, said the police took three of his Afghan friends, Ilias Haqjo, Mohammad, and Reza (full names unknown), all between 20 and 25 years old, without their possessions.

“They came here and told them they have to go to register,” he said. “They left happy and when they came out the police were waiting for them…. If the guys knew they were going to be deported, they would have taken their bags, their papers, their money.”

On the other side, in Dikili, Turkey, the authorities hung blue tarps on the fence around the registration tents to block journalists and human rights monitors from contacting the deportees. The police commander at the area denied a Human Rights Watch request to access the site.

The deportees were then loaded onto buses and driven away. Police at the site told Human Rights Watch that they were headed to Kirklareli, near Edirne, and the media subsequently reported that the people deported from Greece were being held at the Pehlivankoy removal center in that town.

The deportees on the buses in Turkey, however, seemed not to know where exactly they were going. “Now we’re in the bus, they’re taking us to a camp,” Mohsen Ahmadi wrote his friend “Amir” around 3 p.m. “Why there?” “Amir” asked. “I don’t know, the camp is near Istanbul,” Ahmadi replied.

“When you arrive, let us know,” “Amir” wrote. “OK,” Ahmadi wrote back at 8:28 p.m., but that was the last message that “Amir” received.

Human Rights Watch collected the phone numbers of four of the people who were deported from Chios on April 4. As of April 18, none of them had replied to messages on Viber, the application they had been using. When called, three of the phones appeared to be shut off and one of the numbers was not working.

The legal basis of confiscating phones from people being deported, if any, remains unclear. Given that asylum seekers and migrants rely on their phones to stay informed and to keep in touch with family, such measures appear unnecessary and cruel, as well as a violation of the individuals’ personal property rights, Human Rights Watch said.

EU/Greece: First Turkey Deportations Riddled With Abuse (Human Rights Watch)

Previously: Meanwhile, On Chios

‘Is Our Response To Be Defined By Barbed Wire, Tear Gas And Rubber Bullets?’

UPDATE:

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The amount of powdered baby milk each infant in Vial allegedly gets every day

Further to the picture (above) circulating on social media last Thursday…

Patrick Kingsley, of The Guardian, reports:

Babies detained in Greece under the terms of the EU-Turkey migration deal are being denied access to adequate supplies of milk formula, refugees and aid workers have alleged.

Approximately 25 babies under the age of six months, whose mothers are unable to breastfeed, are being given roughly 100ml of milk formula just once a day on the island of Chios, according to photographs sent by detained refugees and testimonies provided by phone.

… A 35-year-old Afghan construction manager, detained in a detention centre on Chios since 21 March, said he had been forced to mix water with bread to stop his five-month-old daughter going hungry.

The man, who said he worked as a contractor for the British army in Afghanistan but asked not to named for fear of victimisation, said: “They are only giving us half a cup of milk for all 24 hours – but that’s not enough. There’s no more milk for lunch or dinner or during the night. This is a big problem. There are maybe 24 or 25 babies under six months.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council, which maintains a presence on Chios, confirmed the claim and said the number of infant children may even be higher. “It’s clear that baby milk [formula] is not being routinely distributed,” said Dan Tyler, the NRC’s protection and advocacy officer on Chios. “I did a series of meetings with refugees last week, and mothers brought up [the issue of] baby milk all the time.

Refugee babies detained on Greek island ‘not getting adequate milk’ (Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian)