Lesvos, 14 January, 2017 – the snow is melting, but the weather forecast is for another cold spell for Greece. The following is an attempt to get across what has been happening on Lesvos in the last ten days.
Snow storm in Greece, including on Lesvos! Of the 6500 refugees currently on the island, 3500 have been living in tents in the so-called hotspot Moria. None of them have been evacuated. Snow gets into the tents, onto the beds, onto blankets, into clothes – there is nowhere to dry off or to warm up.
While photos start spreading on social media, the UNHCR and NGOs try to rent hotel rooms in order to evacuate people from their tents.
However, the president of the Lesvos hotel owners association, Periklis Antoniou, re-iterates the organisation’s decision from three months ago not to rent out any rooms to refugees or to NGOs. The Syriza MP for Lesvos, Giorgos Pallis, has tried unsuccessfully to change that decision.
The hotel owners justify their policy saying that if they rented out rooms to refugees, then Lesvos would no longer be a tourist destination but a giant registration centre. This is the same organisation that made sure that the “Hope Centre” could never open and instead was even fined €10,000. The “Hope Centre” was a derelict hotel in Eftalou. Philipa and Eric Kempson, together with hundreds of volunteers, had spent months renovating it in order to turn it into refugee accommodation – all the time paying rent to the owners. Anything seems justified to prevent refugees from getting too close to the tourists.
2017 just started – and the documentation of our journey back to the borders 2015 is ready.
It is more then one year later now – and what happened in 2015 already became history. When we read now, the texts and the pictures of 2015, we read it also to understand our own history.
A lot has changed since then, especially on Lesvos. After the EU-Turkey-deal and the closure of the Balkanroute, 60.000 people got stuck and are blocked under inhuman conditions in Greece. They are blocked from continuing their journey into another future. Lesvos, the island of solidarity has changed into the island of the trapped. Most deportations to Turkey are carried out via Lesvos. We will soon document what we experienced in October 2016.
Again there is the plan to build new detention centres on the Aegean islands, not much hope for a positive change this year. Even more resistance is needed and the history of the struggle for freedom of movement should be made public.
The border was never open – and it was never closed. Also today, under very difficult conditions, people manage to continue their journey and to arrive. Today, in times where EU-migration-policy again means mainly deterrence and deportation, we need more then ever another, a welcoming Europe, safe places where noone will be asked for a passport, but is just a friend among friends.
OUR EUROPE DOESN’T NEED BORDERS,
INSTEAD IT HAS OPEN DOORS AND PEOPLE CAN ARRIVE ON REGULAR FERRIES, LIKE EVERYONE ELSE.
When we returned to Mytilene in October 2016, during the same week the citizens of Lesvos finally did not receive the Nobel Peace Prize for their courageous support of refugees both at sea and after arriving on their island. Everywhere in the media still reviews of the last year – and not much about the changes and the current situation.
We returned to the place that we had visited only a year earlier, in October 2015, and our memories of that time are still fresh. We want to reflect on the transformations that we witnessed and share some of our impressions.
At the shores, October 2015
What happened in 2015 along the shores of Lesvos was extraordinary. Many of the boats that landed on the beaches in the north and the south-east of the island had to be assisted. They were welcomed not only by the local residents of Lesvos, whose laudable efforts gained attention worldwide, but, latest from August 2015 onwards, also by people from all over the world, who came to Lesvos to help. In summer 2015, more and more initiatives became involved also in rescue operations, including anarchist groups from Athens, life-guards from Spain, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) who cooperated with Greenpeace, a German boat from Sea-Watch, and many others. Activists from Denmark and Spain were later criminalised for their courageous effort to save lives at sea. At that time, push-backs and violence at sea seemed to have disappeared in this part of the Mediterranean. Through the WatchTheMed Alarm Phone we were in contact with more than 1000 boats in the Aegean Sea. In the majority of the cases, we worked in close cooperation with networks composed of Syrian and Iraqi activists, who accompanied thousands of boats via WhatsApp and other digital technologies. At the same time, many people drowned in the waters before the northern coast of Lesvos in October 2015. Without all of these solidarity networks, many more would have lost their lives. While the crossing was still risky, and many suffered severely on the boats, it was clear that once they had overcome the sea, their journeys ahead would be less dangerous. Their movements opened the Balkan route and most of the people we had met last autumn arrived already weeks later in Germany and Sweden. October 2015 was the peak of the ‘long summer of migration’. Continue reading Impressions from Mytilene – October 2016→
Uprisings in Moria on 24th October, EASO-containers burned down once again
Already for weeks, tensions on the Aegean islands run high after the Greek government announced to open three more so-called “hot-spots” only for “pre-removals” on the islands of Lesvos, Chios and Kos. They are, in fact, deportation prisons. Local residents and municipalities oppose these plans. At the same time, the atmosphere within the camps is boiling over. After months of waiting, the entire time threatened to be deported to Turkey, people have repeatedly protested against the imprisonment in inhumane conditions. It has been announced that, from November onward, weekly deportations to Turkey for 200 persons each time will take place, coordinated by Frontex. This would turn Lesvos into a deportation hub.
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. Continue reading Frontex’s Prison Island Lesvos: Apartheid in the tourist paradise→