Greece: On Lesvos, migrants and their supporters continue to suffer at the hands of the authorities

Legal Centre Lesvos reports on the situation following the fire that destroyed the Moria camp three weeks ago. Grassroots initiatives are being targeted and shut down, and a new, closed camp has been set up. Nevertheless, the organisation reports some succeses with individual cases.


Originally published by Legal Centre Lesvos on Facebook on 27 September 2020.

In the three weeks that have passed since the fires that destroyed Moria refugee camp, the European Union and Greek authorities have seized upon this opportunity to further their pre-existing policy objectives. A new containment camp has been built, with financial support from European institutions and the material support of UNHCR; Member States have made and reneged upon relocation pledges; the Greek authorities’ assault on those in solidarity with migrants continues, as manifested by the recent declaration that Pikpa camp - run by a local grassroots organization - will be forced to close; and the European Commission has reaffirmed its commitment to containment, deterrence and return, as stated in the new Migration Pact.

The gulf between declarations made at the European level, including the Commissioner for Home Affairs’ promise of ‘no more Morias’, and the reality for migrants in Lesvos, could not be more stark. The new camp’s orderly facade, with its rows upon rows of UNHCR-branded tents, belies its dysfunctional and fundamentally inhumane reality. The site is exposed, and vulnerable to inclement weather. Greek authorities are still conducting searches with metal detectors on site, and migrants have found bullet casings around the camp owing to the site’s former use as a shooting range. There are no showers, leaving people to wash in the sea or with bottled water. Food is still distributed just once daily, and the majority of people in contact with Legal Centre Lesvos have reported that they are hungry. The nights are growing colder, and people are sleeping on the cold ground without mattresses, warm clothes, or adequate blankets.

This situation of generalised dysfunction compounds the pre-existing vulnerabilities of those living the new camp, including:

  • A, an elderly woman, and her eight-year-old granddaughter F, who waited for three days in the new camp before being assigned a tent to sleep in. Similarly, M and his three minor siblings spent three nights sleeping in the pathways of the new camp before they were given a place to sleep;
  • S, a single woman, who is now living in a shared tent in the new camp. She had previously lived in the women’s section of Moria camp - which, while far from secure, offered a measure of safety to those living inside. In the new site, there is no protection of the women’s area - and within the first three nights of being there, her tent had been robbed twice. When she ran out to alert police officers of the theft, she told Legal Centre Lesvos that the officers swore at her and ignored her requests for help;
  • G takes strong medication to treat her complex health issues. She has to take her pills three times a day, and with food - but with food distributions only happening once-daily, she is often left with no choice but to take her medication on an empty stomach.

At present, a specified number of migrants are allowed to leave between 8am and 8pm per day, but they must register with the police and be given a ticket before doing so. There remains no official announcement on how the camp will function - that is to say, whether it will remain temporary and controlled, or permanent and ultimately closed. Similarly, there has been no announcement from the Asylum Service about when the offices in Lesvos will be re-established, and how interviews and other procedures will be conducted.

Despite the inadequate conditions in the new camp, all other accommodation options in Lesvos are under government attack. In a letter leaked yesterday, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs declared that Pikpa, a camp for vulnerable refugees, will be forced to close by October 15th - just twenty days from now. Last week, it was announced that the municipality-run camp for families at Kara Tepe will be closed by the end of the year. It is unclear where the residents of these camps will go; however, the government’s attack on alternative accommodation sites goes hand-in-hand with its efforts to contain and isolate migrants in one space - the new camp - in Lesvos.

There remains a conspicuous absence of new arrivals in Lesvos, and illegal collective expulsions continue to be documented throughout the Aegean. Those who have reached Lesvos in the last months, however, remain in health quarantine sites at Megala Therma and in the municipality-run camp at Kara Tepe. Many of the new arrivals have been held there for over forty days, and are yet to be registered as asylum seekers. They have been told that they will be moved to the new camp, but there is no clarity as to when that will happen.

Furthermore, authorities have made no effort to identify vulnerable people presently in the quarantine sites - which include tens of unaccompanied children, as young as twelve years old, who are currently residing with unrelated adults and without any child-specific protection or support. It has been announced that vulnerability assessments will not take place in the new camp - effectively denying those entitled to procedural or reception guarantees (according to Greek law 4636/2020, and the European asylum acquis) the ability to access their rights.

The Greek authorities’ pursuit of detention continues, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the associated global call to end the detention of migrants and asylum seekers. Over thirty people who were formerly detained in Moria camp’s pre-removal centre, PRO.KE.K.A, have been apprehended by authorities and transferred to a detention centre in mainland Greece, in Xanthi. There are still no official deportations taking place, and police stated that their transfer was for practical reasons (owing to the lack of detention capacity in Lesvos) as opposed to facilitating their deportation - which is, for many, the sole reason stated for their detention.

Despite this challenging context, the Legal Centre Lesvos has seen several positive outcomes in the last weeks. Two individuals, who were supported by Legal Centre Lesvos prior to their interviews, have been granted refugee status. Our team has helped three unregistered, unaccompanied children, who were sleeping on the roadsides following the fire, to register with authorities, and all have now been transferred to a safe shelter for minors. In addition, we supported one separated child to access the same facility.

M, a fifteen-year-old unaccompanied child from Syria, has been accepted for family reunification and will travel to Germany to join his uncle. His case was submitted outside of the Dublin Regulation’s strict deadlines, owing to long delays in his registration as an asylum seekers and the lack of legal or child-specific support offered to him. However, with the support of the Legal Centre Lesvos, he made a request under the discretionary articles of the Dublin Regulation (Article 17.2 of EU Regulation 604/2013), which was ultimately accepted this week.

The Legal Centre Lesvos also worked with Equal Rights Beyond Borders to litigate the case of A, a single mother from Afghanistan with two minor daughters, whose application for family reunification under the Dublin Regulation was rejected. Her son, who lives in Germany and is just twelve years old, holds a ban on deportation as opposed to a positive grant of international protection, a technicality which excludes him from family reunification under the Dublin Regulation. Equal Rights Beyond Borders took the family’s case to court - and won, meaning that A and her daughters will be able to join their son/brother in Germany!

Given European institutions and Member States’ ongoing offensive against migrants’ rights, successes such as these feel particularly powerful.

 

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