Letter of Protest against inhumane treatment of refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos

Berlin / Hamburg / Mytilene in August 2014

Dear Madams and Sirs,

We witnessed recently how refugees were exposed after their arrival on the island of Lesbos by an inhumane treatment by the Greek coast guard. With this letter we are protesting against this approach.

On Wednesday, 06th of August 2014, we planned, as part of our summer camp on the island of Lesvos from Youth Without Borders and Welcome-to-Europe (two anti-racist solidarity networks), to celebrate a party with and for refugees and migrants. We chose as the place the PikPa, an empty children’s camp, which had been converted by activists from Lesvos with the consent of the mayor to a welcome-center for providing the newly arrived refugees with a roof over their head, the first legal informations and food. As well on this Wednesday refugees from Turkey had arrived and spent the time waiting to be registered by the Greek authorities, in Pikpa. Finally, a Coast Guard bus arrived and about 35 of the refugees were to be picked up.

These people, who had crossed the night before the sea between Turkey and the island of Lesvos, – risking their lives in a small crowded boat – deserve humane treatment like anyone else. They are not guilty of any crime. The only “crime that they have committed” is to have fled from their countries by war, violence and hunger. The inhumane nature, in which the Greek coast guard treated the refugees, is the occasion of this letter.

One official of the Greek coast guard, whom we know by name, had a handwritten list of names. He roared each of these names in a brusquely and military tone. Expecting that the people screamed at, immediately understand him and put their hands up, he directly became aggressive when this did not happen. When they reacted to his screaming, they were commanded harshly to enter immediately to the waiting bus. There were 35 degree heat, the bus was designed for 10 people, the windows of the bus were closed. The procedure lasted for more than 30 minutes, during this time the people, who had already got in, had to stay in the unbearable heat in the bus. After almost everyone had entered, he urged them to back off the bus and stand outside. About the background of this approach he let everyone around in the dark. The same procedure was repeated twice: everyone was called, aggressively yelled to immediately enter the bus to wait there, sat in the unbearable heat, was asked to leave the bus, was called back, yelled aggressively etc. Overall, this procedure lasted more than 2.5 hours. In the bus it was so unbearably hot, that some almost lost consciousness during repeated entry and exit.

On Monday, 11th of August 2014, another group of refugees in a rubber boat was picked up at 6 o’clock in the morning off the island of Lesbos by the Greek coast guard. One of the refugees aboard was seriously injured on his hand by a knife. Another refugee aboard the boat had tried – in panic facing a possible push-back by the Greek Coast Guard – to stab holes in the boat with a knife, hoping it might become unusable and the Coast Guard could only save the people and not pull them with their own boat back into Turkish waters – these push-back take place regularly. The now severely injured young man had intervened because he feared for his life and that of other passengers. He lost a lot of blood and asked in the coming hours again and again for help. He remained like the whole group throughout the day under the control of the Coast Guard, bleeding but without medical care. We found the injured at 9 o’clock at night, 15 hours had passed since the attack. He had a dirty shirt tied around his hand. The blood was dried and the shirt was sticking to the wounds. In the hospital, it was abnalysed that the tendons were cut at several fingers. Due to the complex injury of the young man could not be adequately treated in Mytileni. He was sent to a special clinic in Athens where he had to undergo a two-hour-microsurgical Operation. He was told he would never again be able to move his little finger completely.

The two situations described, the degrading treatment on the one occasion and the non-treatment of serious injuries are obviously no exception. Refugees tell us again and again of such and partly even worse experiences. Especially from the new EU-funded “Reception Center”, a prison near the village of Moria, nearly all released, who we met, reported from everyday degrading treatment by the Greek police. The members of the Greek Coast Guard have acted in both cases under the eyes of many witnesses. When nobody’s looking, the extent of racist violence, exposed to the refugees, is even greater.

With this letter we call to your humanity. The refugees have been on a long dangerous road and have a long journey also in front of them. They are human beings and must be treated like human beings. We appeal to you to respect human rights – especially for refugees.

The systematic violation of human rights must be stopped immediately. Refugees need protection and respect.

Nevroz Duman – Youth without Borders/ Jugendliche ohne Grenzen
Margret Geitner – Welcome to Europe
Sara Ballardini, Ramyar Hassani – Christian Peacemaker Teams/Mediterranean Project

JOGWelcome to EuropeChristian Peacemaker Teams/Mediterranean Project