Since 2013, Welcome to Europe (w2eu) and Youth Without Borders (JOG) organise journeys for young refugees, to make it possible for them to return to the place where they had first reached Europe: The Island of Lesvos/Greece. This year, the ‘back to the border’ journey turned into a horror trip, especially, for all of us who were without European identity cards. Twice, the police and coast guard didn’t let us take the ferry to Piraeus (Athens) and leave the island as they said they had to re-check the asylum seekers cards for their genuinity – a paper issued by the Greek government itself. We observed dozens of people who were pulled out of the passengers queues at the airport while providing for passports or Greek aliens documents and dozens more who were unsuccessfully trying to leave from the island from the port along with us even though some of them were living and working in Greece for years.
First travel day at the port of Mytilene: Along the heavily fenced entrance to the ferry terminal, travellers get controlled by port police forces and police in uniforms and plain clothes. While we walked towards the ferry the special forces of the coast guard emerged from the dark and came to the entrance of the ferry where first passengers had started entering. The well-trained and big officers wore military clothes and black facemasks while they were equipped with different weapons. We already entered the vessel. Security staff from the ferry asked the non-European looking among us only for their passports. As soon as they saw the asylum seekers cards, they immediately told their holders to step out of the ferry. Special forces of the coast guard told us we had to leave the port and wait for Monday where authorities in the Hot Spot detention centre Moria would work to go and confirm that the documents were real. They informed us only persons whose name is on a list submitted to the port authorities by police authorities in Moria would be allowed to travel. While we were heading out of the port, special forces were checking each truck aiming to travel searching it with 5-6 officers with torches from all sides for stowaways.
Second travel day at the port of Mytilene: We entered the first gate to the parking area of the port and reached to the ticket selling kiosk. Another 30-40 refugees were standing at the gate hoping to travel. They had been transferred from Moria to the port for the purpose to leave the island after their documents had been checked by the aliens police during the day. We asked if the list with the names of our friends, which had been send in the morning during our visit in Moria had arrived, but civil port police and special forces denied. After some minutes of waiting in front of the ticket kiosk, the officers started shouting on the refugees waiting there and pushed them by force out of the port area. After they started also shouting on our friends who were standing aside while we tried to find a solution making some phone calls. We told the officers that we are a travelling group and they are with us. Then a police officer started shouting like crazy we should exit immediately the port area. They escorted us with 5-6 officers until the gate of the port that night – even though we all had official documents and even though we had followed their request completely and had checked the documents by police in Moria.
This year we returned to Lesvos to support the more than 6,000 people who are stuck, since months, in the prison labelled nicely “Hot Spot” in EU-jargon and in Kara Tepe, an open tent camp run and controlled by the local government. These people cannot leave the island due to the dirty EU-Turkey deal and simply because they are humans who do not possess the right papers.
Nowadays, all those travellers who are not white and not European are being subjected to racist controls. Even a member of the European Parliament, who is black was controlled for two hours recently. Lesvos Island was turned into a prison since March 20th and has become as a whole a border with heavy controls and high fences, which is the opposite of a cosy and beautiful tourist attraction.
The youngest member of our group, who is not even for years old asked: “Why don’t they let us go on the ferry?” Despite having a German passport, she demonstrated solidarity and stayed on the island with all those who could not travel. Happily, she didn’t notice when ferry staff upon our final boarding at the third travel day, tried repeatedly to convince us we had to sit in this special corner where later all non-European (documented) travels (who had purchased their tickets) were seated. What would you answer the child, if it asked why?
Freedom of movement for all!
Stop turning Lesvos and Greece into a prison and a depository for the unwanted of Europe!
Welcome to Europe and Youth Without Borders (JOG)