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AYS Daily Digest 03/09/2020 — Greek Government Uses COVID to Justify Crackdown in Moria

Sea-Watch 4 in Quarantine in Palermo///Greek Minister of Shipping Admits to “Preventing Entry” of People on the Move///Protest in Sicilian Reception Center///& More

A drawing of life in Moria. From Dunya Collective

As we reported in yesterday’s digest, the first case of coronavirus was discovered in the camp of Moria, prompting a strict lockdown and concerns about further repression. Today, the government announced that centers on Lesvos and Chios will be converted to closed structures.

The contracts were already published and Moria is set to officially become a closed structure in early November. The people of Moria have had their movement limited for 165 days, and now they will not be able to leave at all. Meanwhile, there is no working COVID-19 unit within the camp, although authorities promise one will be open within the month.

Instead of using resources to give people adequate living conditions and open up new medical facilities, or to resettle people and close the camp altogether, the government is spending those resources on creating closed structures. This is also a slap in the face to Greek residents of the islands, who have been vocal in their opposition to closed structures. Instead of listening to the demands of Greeks and people on the move alike, the government tried to blame locals for the epidemic by implying that the outbreak would have been avoided if the closed structure was built in February and plowed ahead with the unpopular building plan.

Besides proceeding with the construction of closed camps with suspicious haste, what is the Greek government doing to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Moria? Many others are wondering the same thing. The EODY says 2,000 tests will be carried out immediately and they are currently hiring more doctors. However, this is almost the same number of tests that have been allocated to the Greek parliament, a much smaller group of people and one with no negative cases. Contact tracing in a camp of 13,000 people is very difficult to do, and sanitation facilities are still poor, even six months into the pandemic. There is also little clear communication between the government and the people.

The enforced mass quarantine is heavily criticized by residents and organizations like Doctors Without Borders. Caroline Willemen, MSF field coordinator for coronavirus on Lesvos, says: “What is happening is that COVID-19 is being used as an excuse to limit the freedom and rights of people who are seeking safety.” Forcing people to stay in the camp without taking any steps to improve overcrowding or sanitation is at best a shocking refusal to take responsibility, at worst a deliberate death sentence.

Unfortunately, there are outbreaks in other camps in Greece. Oinofyta camp near Athens is also in quarantine due to two positive cases.

In this video, the “Astral” and the “Open Arms” meet at sea. Currently they are the only rescue ships in the Mediterranean.

The Sea Watch 4 is in quarantine in Palermo after people on board disembarked, and will have to remain there for 14 days. Other ships, such as “Alan Kurdi” and the “Aita Mari” are still under administrative detention, which is why the “Astral” and the “Open Arms” are patrolling the Mediterranean alone right now. Meanwhile, a cargo ship, the “Asso Ventinove,” that dropped off people rescued at sea was not required to quarantine.

For more an insight into the work of these rescue ships, watch this documentary, which followed the Ocean Viking on a rescue mission in the end of 2019.

After months of his government denying pushbacks in the Aegean despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Ioannis Plakiotakis, the Minister of Shipping, bragged in a press conference about “detection and prevention” done by his government. He said:

“Only in August we had 68 cases of detection and prevented the entry of about 3,000 people in our country.”

In total, Plakiotakis said his government prevented the entry of 10,000 people this year. For the past several months, the government has denied that these actions took place, even going as far as to accuse the New York Times of peddling fake news.

Now that a high-ranking government official has admitted on the record that the official policy is to conduct illegal pushbacks (even though the usage of the term “pushbacks” seems to irk them), will the EU do anything?

The Khora Social Kitchen will be open again this Friday after a thorough cleaning, but with less food than usual. Normal service will start again on Monday!

Thousands of people are still stuck in limbo in Bosnia. They are unable to proceed to Europe due to the violent methods of the Croatian police (who only recently robbed a 17-year-old boy and broke his nose). This article (in Italian) summarizes how the coronavirus lockdown and violent pushbacks of Croatian and Slovenian police combined to create a situation where several thousand people have to sleep rough because they have nowhere to go.

This family is one of the many forced to sleep outside after they were pushed back by the Croatian police. They could not go to Miral, the only camp in the area, because it is for single men only. The family is planning to walk all the way to Sedra camp in Bihac.

We have been in Croatia for one week before we were caught by the police. They stole our money and our phones. I am very sad about that because the only pictures I have of our marriage were on that phone…We were sleeping in a small dome tent but the water came dripping inside. Our blankets and our clothes were completely soaked. I don’t know why IOM didn’t help us.

The people here have been failed on every level — by local governments, by the police in neighboring countries such as Croatia, and by the international community. This cannot continue!

The Hungarian government’s racist propaganda machine has turned its sights on children. Textbooks for fourteen-year-olds learning geography feature sentences like “they take away our jobs” when talking about people on the move.

There is an ongoing protest in the reception center “Villa Sikania” in the Sicilian town of Siculiana. People are protesting against overcrowded conditions in the center, which is also badly in need of repairs; not even its broken windows were fixed before people were moved in a few months ago. Many people have climbed onto the roof or fled from the center. There are more and more police and carabinieri on the scene — hopefully they will not use excessive violence against the protesters.

Protest in Villa Sikania. Photographer: Alessio Tricani Source: Mediterraneo Cronaca

The Health Task Force of Sicily declared the hotspot of Lampedusa unfit for occupation during a pandemic. The center will be closed and everybody evacuated within two days, and the central government has promised to aid in the relocation.

Doctor Cristoforo Pomara explained that the center, which is almost a thousand people over capacity, would be unsafe even if there weren’t a pandemic going on due to the easy spread of infectious diseases such as shingles. Conditions in Lampedusa have been terrible for years, with people crammed into overcrowded living conditions without even proper beds, but nothing has been done until now, when there is a heated election campaign going on.

Amongst all this, arrivals to Lampedusa are continuing. 90 people from Eritrea who fled detention and torture in Libya, including several children, arrived there today. They were rescued after calling AlarmPhone for help from the Maltese SAR. As arrivals to Italy in general keep happening, Italy is calling for more equal resettlement within the European Union. They are supportive of a mandatory, binding relocation pact among member states, although it is doubtful if other members will follow.

In a landmark decision in the case of several Eritreans pushed back from Italy in 2009, an Italian court ruled that those who were refused entry to Italian territory can request an entry visa on the basis of protection. Sixteen people from the original group made it to Italy on Thursday. However, this was after they went through torture, a grueling crossing of the Sinai Desert, and years of exploitation in Israel. Several of their companions on the first attempted crossing have died. While this case sets an important precedent, the amount of human suffering that was needed to get us here is staggering.

The saga of the cargo ship Etienne continues, almost a month after it first rescued a group of people in distress at sea. The owner, Maersk Tankers, said they are running out of supplies and called for “urgent humanitarian assistance and a safe disembarkation.” The company also said that the rescue was made after a request by the Maltese government, who is now refusing to provide necessary assistance. The twenty-seven-day-long standoff is a “new and unfortunate record for migrants held aboard a commercial ship.”

More and more people are attempting the journey from Morocco to the Canary Islands in Spain. 32 people landed in Puerto de Orzola on Thursday. Two others were located to the south of Gran Canaria.

Although arrivals to Spain overall are down, they’ve risen in the Canary Islands, forcing several hundred people to camp outside the reception centers. This is due to Morocco’s increased crackdown on people on the move following an agreement with the EU. The Moroccan government relocated people from its northern shore so they could no longer make the shorter crossing to the Spanish mainland, forcing them to take the longer route to the Canary Islands.

Germans are circulating a petition to “welcome the rescued people aboard the Etienne in Germany,” which you can sign here.

In other relocation news, 118 people were relocated from Greece to Germany. However, it would be irresponsible on our part to report these bits of relocation theater without any critique . It seems as if every day, European governments publicize every person they accept to relocate (this is not a problem unique to Germany). While we are happy that these 118 people will hopefully have a chance at a better life, there are thousands and thousands of people who remain trapped in Greek camps while the rest of the EU drags their feet on creating a comprehensive, mandatory resettlement plan. Additionally, Germany is currently using its Presidency of the EU Council to propose expanding Frontex’s powers, which will harm countless people on the move.

Every person who gets a chance at a normal life instead of languishing in an overcrowded camp is a victory. But we cannot forget how many others still need help — and governments should not be celebrated too much for doing the bare minimum.

Attention UK-based friends! Join a protest Friday at 1pm in front of the Home Office to stop the deportation of Osime Brown! More details here.

Despite the protests of advocacy groups and the people themselves, the British government deported eleven Syrians back to Spain using the Dublin regulation as justification. When they arrived in Spain, the people were abandoned at the airport and forced to sit outside in hot weather with no food or water. The Home Office, displaying its typical level of concern for human rights and dignity, said the UK “is under no obligation to monitor the treatment of asylum seekers who have returned to the EU member state responsible for their claim.”

416 people crossed the Channel and reached the UK Thursday, creating a new record for single-day arrivals. Hopefully they will be treated with care and kindness, although the UK’s continued usage of the hostile environment strategy does not inspire confidence.

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the Institute for Public Policy Research found that the hostile environment did not succeed in its goal of pushing people to voluntarily leave the UK. Instead, it fostered an environment of racism, created paralysis within the agency, and damaged the reputation of Britain abroad. As Amreen Qureshi, a researcher from the IPPR said, “The hostile environment is a policy based on ideology, not evidence.”

Many people in Britain have had enough. NHS workers expressed their displeasure at being expected to check people’s immigration status in addition to doing their jobs, and workers within the Home Office themselves are growing dissatisfied with the policy. People are pressuring the government to reopen legal routes to resettlement, which were closed in March due to the pandemic but not reopened, even as deportations have been restarted.

A document published by the German Presidency of the EU Council asked how Frontex, the EU border agency, can help national governments deport unaccompanied minors.

This is the question posed to other delegations:

“What do you consider being best practices in preparing returns of (unaccompanied) minors (e.g. in terms of taking the child’s best interest into account, providing age-appropriate information, offering counselling services, taking family unity into account, sharing best practices for member state officials involved in the return of minors)?

Does your Member State see a scope for support from Frontex? And if so, how could Frontex provide support with regard to the various stages of return?”

In other troubling decisions, the Presidency argues that Frontex should be able to coordinate deportation flights on its own, increases Frontex’s access to various databases, and wants to enhance their role in “voluntary return.” While everything in this proposal is frightening and heralds a gross increase in Frontex’s powers, the casual discussion of the deportation of children who have no family to take care of them shows how callous the European border regime is.

The UNHCR published a paper called “Coming Together for Refugee Education,” about the barriers children on the move face in accessing education. You can read it here.

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Are You Syrious?

News digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and people on the move, but also for journalists, decision makers and other parties.