Greece: Statewatch visit to the Pikpa Centre for asylum-seekers in Mytilene

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Ann Singleton and Tony Bunyan (who were in Mytilene for a Statewatch Civil Liberties Workshop, which was attended by 122 people).

We visited the Pikpa Centre in early April 2013, an open facility run by volunteers in a building provided by the municipality. The Centre is outside the capital town of Mytilene, near the airport.

It consists of a concrete building containing a kitchen and a collection of small wooden buildings in which people sleep, some 6 or 8 to a room, on bare mattresses. They have all arrived following long journeys to Greece from Syria, Afghanistan and further beyond. The people from Afghanistan left there over four months ago. Each day 20-30 people arrive in Mytilene by boat. Some were told en route that they could get a taxi to Athens from the island; clearly an impossibility, even had they enough money for the fare.

Some receive papers (not asylum) to go to Athens or move on elsewhere. Others stay on the island, in limbo and entirely dependent on the goodwill, financial support and voluntary work of the people of the island.

When we visited there were 30 people in the Centre. They included single young men in their late teens and early twenties, some older people including mothers and fathers with children, and unaccompanied children. They have had no opportunity to ask for asylum in Greece because the Port Police send them to the Coastguards, who then send them back to the Port Police (who will not accept an asylum claim). They have not seen a lawyer and are told by the authorities that it is only possible to do so if they get arrested, but the police won't arrest them. If anyone does manage to be arrested, police say it will mean five months in prison or a police cell before they can submit an asylum claim. Two of the young men had arrived in Molyvos, a tourist village in the north of the island. They walked for two days across the mountains to get to Mtyilene town.

A significant number of the people in Pikpa today have been there for 17 or 18 days, not knowing if they will ever see a lawyer, be able to claim asylum, or move out of the Centre.

It is clear that the EU's Common European Asylum System is nowhere near in place on this island and is unlikely ever to be, especially in the context of the economic crisis. the organisation holds an appropriate licence from the relevant reprographic rights organisation (eg: Copyright Licensing Agency in the UK) with such usage being subject to the terms and conditions of that licence and to local copyright law.

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