Journey Back to the Border 2016 on Lesvos – Part I

In October we, Welcome to Europe (W2EU) and Youth Without Borders, return again to Lesvos to the place of our first encounters, our first arrivals to Europe, the place that reflects the current EU border regime like no other. Many things have changed since our last “Journey back to the Border”: the infamous EU-Turkey deal has “helped” to decrease the numbers of arrivals of boats drastically compared to “the long summer of migration 2015”. Moria has been transformed into a “hotspot” with an immense number of NGOs providing their visions of humanitarian and financial aid.

The next week we want to inform on this blog about our actions on the island. It is especially for all those from our group who were not able to join the “Journey back to the Border” of this year.

You are here with us in our thoughts!!

19th of October

Photo: Marily Stroux

After days of preparation we started on Wednesday with visiting our Memorial in Thermi that we set up in 2013. The memorial commemorates 27 people that drowned in 2012 representing all the people that lost their lives at the border of Fortress Europe. We wanted to renew the stone to resist the harsh weather conditions of the Sea. First, we cleaned the place and met with local people to discuss the materials, design and ways how to maintain this place in the future. Then, we planned a ceremony that we want to hold on Monday to commemorate the ongoing death in the Mediterranean.

After Thermi we went to Moria to see how the place has changed. Approaching the prison we couldn’t believe our eyes: It was hard to find a parking space with very long lines of parked cars around the entrance. Mostly they had signs of car rentals or NGOs. It was very clear that the owners of the cars are somehow working inside the prison – as you can’t enter without a permit.
Moria has been further “fortified” with fences and barbed wire, more containers have been built to increase the number of detainees. It looks like, it sounds like, it tastes like a prison even though some people can partly go out after being registered. There was no sign of the recent fire. The flames have been extinguished with daily business taking over.
Around the entrance little businesses have emerged, a taxi line waiting to bring people to the city and a handful of canteens where you can buy food or drinks with the jolly company of civil cops or other mysterious figures… Not a good place to get in contact with people.

Photo: w2eu

Then, we went to Kara Tepe, the former open camp for Syrians and Iraqis. It is now for people of mixed nationalities. We had the impression that there are more families and women than in Moria. Again, this place was full of NGOs that were going in and out.
We sat with Mahdi, his mother Fatima and her friends outside. Mahdi is a friend who lived for many years in Villa Azadi in Agiassos on Lesvos as a minor. He has arrived to Germany (six years ago), learned the “Hessen” accent of German and would like to marry his girlfriend there. For this he wants his mother living at his side – which is why he came to Mytilini to organize and speed up the family reunification procedure. It is a scandal that Fatima is in Kara Tepe since four months being sick while her whole family is in Germany waiting for her. She is one of thousands of refugees who are stuck in Greece due to policies following the EU-Turkey deal.

After this we went down to the beach where the No Border Kitchen is currently located after having been evicted several times and have again an ultimatum until the 1st November to leave their “social centre”.

Slowly people from our group arrived this day and dropped in. Also there arrived Hassanjan to visit his small brother whom he hadn’t seen for four years.
Among us there are two people here to speed up their family reunification. It shows again that we can make things short while administration takes way too long!!

In the evening we all sat down and ate in a Taverna to celebrate that we are together again even though we miss all those who were not able to come this year.

In the night we went to visit people from ERCI (European Rescue Committee International) on their night shifts. Next to the airport we found two volunteers sitting and watching the sea for new arriving boats. We made a bonfire and talked about their and our work also with Watch the Med Alarm Phone. ERCI has two boats to assist in rescue operations, they work in close cooperation with the Greek Coastguard and Frontex.


20th of October

On Thursday we went in the morning to accompany Siniparxis on their excursion with unaccompanied minors from Moria. Siniparxis is a long-existing local solidarity network. They organise this kind of excursion since half a year every week to give the imprisoned youth the chance to get away from prison for a few hours. As it was an excursion from prison there were also “social workers”/ guards with us. This was strange for us.

This week it was the turn of the Afghan minors. Two of us went to take the young guys from prison and the others later joined in at the end of the harbour where there is a “Luna Park”. Here, there is a place for bumper cars (“Autoscooter”) which specially opened for the visit in the morning. It was a surreal scenery as we watched them singing, dancing, shouting and crashing into each other with the bumper cars being decorated with all kind of national flags. Of course the car with the EU flag was the only that didn’t work…

Photo: w2eu

They were having a lot of fun even though there were still in a context of prison. As the place was directly at the seaside you could see Turkey in a clear view which made the whole situation even more absurd.
From the “Luna  Park” the youngsters were transferred to a place where they could watch a local master of handmade pottery doing his job. In the end we went to a café in Kagianni, a village with a splendid view over Mytilini and on the side towards Turkey where everyone took a lot of obligatory selfies.
The last two weeks we talked with the young people about their dreams and wishes for their future professions. They made drawings out of this which we aim to make an exhibition out of them.
In the end, we shared our thoughts that we understand that now it is very difficult to think about their future but the situation they are in will not last forever. For this it was very good that Hassanjan was there, too and who has been in their situation some years ago and lives in Germany now. It was cool when everyone realized that they knew Hassanjan’s little brother. Finally, everyone departed back to prison and left us behind with mixed feelings.

After this we welcomed Reimer and Ömer, a Alarmphone member from Izmir (Turkey), and had a plannery in Café Pi. In the evening we ate together and went to dance in Bobiras to the DJ-music of our friend Leonidas from the band Alcalica.


21th of October

On Friday some of us went with the second group of minors from Moria to do the trip like on Thursday.

Afterwards we had planned a farewell party in Panagiouda for Mahdi and his mother Fatima.
Because of the extremely slow Greek bureaucracy, Fatima has already waited about two months to get an appointment to apply for family reunification even though her whole family is in Germany. Mahdi, her truly awesome son, had come from Hessen (Germany) to visit her for two weeks and to help organizing the legal process for family reunification. In Kara Tepe Fatima has met other Afghan women and appears to be very warm-heartingly socializing.

Photo: Marily Stroux
Photo: Marily Stroux

With about 10 afghan women and their children who left their husbands at the gate of Kara Tepe we went to eat fish in Panagiouda. We sang, played guitar, danced with the children and made a nice farewell party for Mahdi and his mother.

To their future reunification in Germany, so they can be together for the future marriage of Mahdi!!

Photo: Marily Stroux

We all exchanged contacts and talked how to be in touch to speed up the legal procedures. It was hard to say goodbye but the evening left us with hope that we all could meet in a better situation in Germany or elsewhere.


22th of October

Photo: Marily Stroux

On Saturday we went to the beach to swim as we were brave enough to resist the cold water.

Photo: w2eu

In the evening we joined the weekly demonstration against the current EU policies and especially the situation in Moria (every Saturday evening at 6 pm) supported by people from the No Border Kitchen. Approximately a hundred people crossed the harbour of Mytilini two times, shouting and demanding the end of the EU-Turkey deal and open borders.

Later we cooked different dishes with pumpkin and sat together to eat. Irem and Valerio who had joined us from Izmir (Turkey) talked to us about the current complex and hard situation in Turkey after the EU-Turkey deal. It was a warm evening and it was very nice to exchange while sitting together.