PIKPA is a self-organised welcome center run since December 2012 by the civil society of Mytilene- Specifically the local network village of all together has been offered the former summer camp for youth by the municipality in order to host new arriving refugees. In the beginning the open camp was meant to host the homeless refugees who were arriving on the island and whom the police denied to arrest. When the local authorities started arresting the newcomers and the new first reception detentiuon center in Moria was opened PIKPA changed into a place hosting the ones released from detention who could not reach a ship at the day of release. Meanwhile numbers of newly arriving refugees have increased dramatically and to such a degree that they won’t fit in Moria detention center and again the authorities started transfering them to PIKPA. Refugees are currently first arrested by the coast guard, then transferred to PIKPA and then to to Moria.
‘First reception’ practices of refugees in Greece: The example of Moria on Lesvos island
“We didn’t come to Europe to get beaten, insulted and imprisoned.”
In September 26th, 2013 the new so called “first reception center (KEPY)” opened in Moria on the island of Lesvos. It is the second of its kind in Greece following the example of the KEPY in Fylakio, Evros that opened earlier in the same year.
The Pagani of the Troika – as it is called to remind of former prisons and to disconnect it from nearby Moria village, is a prison where only a few selected NGOs have access under the precondition not to share any information with the outside world. Civil society gets presented the term ‘first reception’ that gives a false impression of an open, accessible place while it is nothing else than another new prison in the tradition of Amigdaleza’s fenced containers the only difference being the detention duration – at first sight. As prescribed by law, detention does not exceed 25 days maximum in this place BUT detainees might just be transferred to (pre-removal) detention centers such as Fylakio, Komotini, Xanthi or Chios for example, where they might stay up to 18 months or more if they are not readmitted to Turkey, deported or sign voluntary return in the meanwhile.
Currently the detention center in Moria is being constructed directly next to the “first reception” center, and build within the same fences and with the same containers. It is about to be opened in beginning of July 2014 with a capacity of 750 people while the capacity of the “first reception” screening center is supposed to reach 250 places. Nonetheless, only detention is what has marked the character of Moria since the beginning.
It is our aim to show from the very beginning of its functioning the real face of the ‘first reception’ detention center and to insist that this has to be closed. We do not argue for better detention conditions but for freedom!
We asked refugees having passed through Moria prison one single question:
Elias (name changed) is 20 years old. He is from Aleppo where he was also studying to become a mechanical engineer. His plan is to go to the UK. The way from Syria to the UK is hard, risky and expensive. He shared the dangers of the road with his sister and his cousins.
“My father told us: You must leave. Here you will be killed. He could not come with us. My parents and the rest of the family had to stay in Syria.”
Elias was forced to join the army, but he didn’t accept to kill his people.
For more than a month he was on the road to Lesvos.
“We were terrified. We didn’t know which way we will be send to Europe. The smuggler said we should not worry. The boat was big, we should be only 10 passengers and the journey over the sea would take only 30 minutes. When we arrived at the coast we saw the rubber boat. We were 42 persons traveling in the night. The waves were enormous. Then the engine had some problems. I thought we would die. I told my sister to close her eyes and we started to pray. If I knew how dangerous it was I would have never taken my sister with me. We arrived wet and scared to death on Lesvos. We went ourselves to the police but they sent us away telling us to come back the next day. When we were finally arrested we stayed three days in prison. 70 men in a cell for two. We were locked up together with penal detainees.”
Upon release the family stayed five days in PIKPA and then left.
“I would have never left Syria if there wasn’t war! Now my plan is to study and then return to my country and help to build it up.”
On Wednesday 6th of February the strike of the sea workers was forcibly stopped by the Greek authorities and the ferry traffic started again. That was when the recently in PIKPA hosted refugees could finally leave towards Athens.
The refugees upon being asked in a plenary session among solidarity people and refugees in PIKPA what was their most important wish had informed us that they wanted to leave as fast as possible from the island. Together we cleaned PIKPA and prepared it for the next newcomers. In the afternoon a municipality bus took them to the port and we were all there to say goodbye until they disappeared into the ship. We felt happy, that this part of their journey seemed successful for them. We promised each other to stay in contact and exchange our news also in future. Everybody in the port – including the coast guard – had to realize that these people are not alone and that we walk this road together in solidarity.