AYS Daily Digest 04/06/2020 — More Illegal Pushbacks from Greece: When Will it End?
Coronavirus and Prejudice in Greece // Growing Hate Speech in Slovenia // Coordination Centers Between Malta and Libya
Two Violent Pushback Attempts by Greek Coast Guard
Harrowing video footage filmed by a man on board a dinghy in the Aegean shows the violent tactics of the Greek Coast Guard. In the first video, a Coast Guard ship circles the small rubber boat but does nothing to help, even though the people on board, including several small children, were in distress and had been at sea for an entire day with no food or water. The Coast Guard had also removed their engine. In a second, even more disturbing video, footage emerges of two Coast Guard ships surrounding the boat, but not rescuing them—instead, they deliberately create giant waves to push the boat back into Turkish waters. Waves can easily capsize a small, overcrowded craft like this, causing everyone on board to drown. People had to jump off and swim to keep their boat afloat and avoid getting pushed back to Turkey.
The people on board this particular ship were eventually rescued by a German Frontex ship. However, the trauma they suffered after spending so much time thinking they were going to die under the uncaring eyes of the Greek Coast Guard will stay with them forever. There is clear video footage of the Coast Guard violating international maritime law in this incident, which obliges everyone to rescue people in distress at sea. Of course, the government found a way to twist even this clear evidence into “fake news” by saying that the Turkish Coast Guard was escorting boats into Greek waters.
That’s multiple cases of violent pushbacks recorded in the same day. While the people in these videos have been rescued, many others have not been so lucky. This is just one incident in a growing pattern of illegal pushbacks conducted by Greece. The EU has warned the Greek government that they must uphold the right to asylum as far back as March. Recently, Fabrice Leggeri, Executive Director of Frontex, confirmed the Greek government’s illegal pushback practices, despite the Greeks’ denials. Instead, the Migration Policy Ministry released data bragging that new arrivals have decreased by 91% compared to last May. They conveniently left out why arrivals have dropped so much.
Something has to be done to stop these systematic violent pushbacks before more lives are lost needlessly!
COVID-19 Continues to Affect People on the Move
As Greece slowly reopens, Covid-19 cases continue. A camp in Nea Kavala in northern Greece has been put under quarantine after a pregnant resident tested positive. The mayor of Peonia, a nearby town, temporarily closed schools that students from the camp attended.
Perhaps the more lasting effect of the pandemic is the way authorities in Greece (and in Italy) used it to further their racist agendas. Balkan Insight published an extensive report on the ways coronavirus fueled racist rhetoric in these two countries, where politicians and the media blamed people on the move for spreading the virus despite there being no factual evidence supporting this. Officials also used the pandemic as an excuse to increase border security and border violence. Government racism had more tangible effects. The report states that Greece effectively had a dual coronavirus policy: one of prevention for the Greek population and one of herd immunity for the non-Greek population, even listing death tolls by nationality in official reports. This shows a clear disregard for human life.
Racist rhetoric on the national level emboldened racists on a smaller scale. One volunteer from Chios, who is a Muslim woman, shared that the local Lidl had separate lines for Greeks and people on the move just like the one in Samos did. Another local business also refused her service. Racism is a rot that is spreading on a national level and needs to be stopped!
People are gathering at the Evros border again, leading some to fear a repeat of February’s violence. Small groups have already tried crossing the Meric River. Border militarization is also increasing. We will be monitoring this situation closely.
MEP Tineke Strike finally secured a public hearing with the Greek government on the recent shootings at the Evros border. Hopefully justice will be served.
Residents and volunteers are beginning to clean up Vathy camp in Samos, parts of which were destroyed in a fire in April. 400 people lost their homes in that fire; hopefully this clean-up will be the first step in helping people in the camp get back on their feet.
Hate Speech A Rising Problem
Slovenians of all stripes, including academics, are becoming uncomfortable with the growing hateful rhetoric in the country.
This is a top-down problem as the country’s prime minister, Janez Janša, frequently uses his official Twitter account to personally attack people he does not like, including journalists. This is unfortunately echoed in the population, where insults hurled at vulnerable groups like the LGBT community, people from other Balkan nations, and people on the move, are on the rise.
Hate speech is rarely prosecuted and often leads to more aggressive acts—writer Svetlana Slapšak received written threats and had her home vandalized after online hate escalated.
This atmosphere of hate could cause real danger for members of visible minorities such as people on the move.
Mayors Say Arrivals Are “Unmanageable”
In a letter addressed to the Italian government, the mayors of Trieste, Gorizia, and Tarvisio said that they were unable to manage the dozens of daily arrivals of people on the move to their cities. They complained about the lack of quarantine facilities and general lack of resources.
Of course, the mayors couldn’t resist some xenophobia. They complained about the center for unaccompanied minors, claiming that many children living there are lying about their age. They also called on the Italian government to increase border control and to negotiate with Balkan states to stop people from even reaching Italy, instead of just asking for more resources. Once again, asking politicians to treat fellow humans with dignity and respect seems to be an impossible task.
Coordination Centers Between Malta and Libya
Malta and Libya signed a memorandum of understanding on immigration in the Mediterranean.
The primary outcome of this memorandum will be the construction of coordination centers in Tripoli and in Malta. Malta promised to pay for both of these centers. The centers will support and coordinate efforts to stop “illegal immigration.”
Malta supposedly lacks the resources to support people rescued at sea, but it can somehow pay to build and maintain such structures in other countries.
Malta also promised to request more EU funding for Libya’s unity government and more resources, including EU money and ships, to help with interception at sea. This comes after countless people on the move, nonprofits, and EU officials have condemned any pushbacks to Libya — which is an active warlord state — or cooperation with the Libyan Coast Guard.
Dunja Milatović, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner on Human Rights, called on Malta to allow the people off its shores to disembark immediately. “The situation of more than 400 persons kept on private ships just outside Malta’s territorial waters is unsustainable and requires immediate action,” she said. Although some of the most vulnerable people on board have been evacuated, many others have been stuck for over a month.
Condemnations are not enough — action is needed to save these people from hell at sea!
People on the Move Kept in Horrible Conditions
Recent arrivals to the Canary Islands are forced to live on a ship while their mandatory two-week quarantine period ends. There, they sleep on the dirty floor all in one space, have no access to showers, and have only a few chemical toilets for dozens of people. This would be unacceptable any time, let alone during a deadly pandemic. APDHA, Asociacion Pro Derechos Humanos Andalucia, condemned their treatment and noted that this reality demonstrates how mandating quarantine is not sufficient — a protocol guaranteeing a space where people can quarantine in dignity without losing their freedoms is vital.
A professor and students at the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya in Barcelona made face masks for medical staff in the Greek camps. You can read more about their beautiful act of solidarity here.
Solidarity Demonstrations for Black Lives Matter
Solidarity demonstrations are continuing to take place across Germany. Here is a roundup of planned events across the country.
Danish Soldiers Were Right to Rescue People in Distress, Audit Says
In an incident in March, Danish soldiers participating in a Frontex mission rescued people on the move from a dingy, disobeying an order from a Greek leading the mission. An internal military audit concluded that the soldiers were right to do so as even though they disobeyed their commander, they obeyed international law and helped rescue vulnerable people.
This is good news for the soldiers, who should not be punished for acting according to their moral values. However, will any steps be taken to punish the commander who issued an order that contradicted international law? Will other soldiers on other Frontex missions who complied with illegal, inhuman orders face consequences? Will the institution of Frontex itself be condemned for its role in countless deaths at Europe’s borders?
Calls to Reopen Access to Asylum at UK/French Border
The organization Refugee Rights Europe published a report outlining the ways the UK government has made it almost impossible to apply for asylum. The UK has extended border controls into northern France and Belgium — but not the commensurate possibility to apply for asylum there, causing countless people to become trapped in northern France. There, they are subject to police violence and terrible living conditions. Refugee Rights Europe is calling on the UK to meet its international obligations by allowing asylum applications from UK Control Zones and accelerating relocation of at-risk individuals.
You can sign their petition here.
People on the Move in the Middle East
The 2019 Situation Report on International Migration was launched virtually on May 28th and explored the situation of people on the move in the Arab World. The discussion highlighted challenges facing people on the move that have been exacerbated by coronavirus, including no access to social services and impossible naturalization procedures. A write-up of the launch can be found here.
The problem of coronavirus and camps for people on the move is not confined to Europe. An elderly Rohingya man died of the virus in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar camp. The camp is overcrowded and has very little resources, causing officials to label coronavirus a “ticking time bomb.”
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