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AYS Daily Digest 09/06/2021 — Campaign Mounts to Abolish Frontex

Reports of abuse in center for vulnerable people in Tripoli//Turkey continues targeting civilians in Iraqi Kurdistan//Greek government defends sound cannons//

Activists papering the walls of Frontex’s Canary Islands seat. Photo credit: EFE/via El Dia

FEATURE

Campaign mounts to abolish Frontex

Four activists covered the walls of the Center of Regional Coordination of the Canary Islands, which is Frontex’s office on the islands, with the list of the names of everyone who has died trying to reach Europe since 1993. Over 40,000 people have died since then (according to UNITED Against Refugee Deaths, the official tally is 44,764 deaths, of which 98% have never been identified). The people wore clothing with the slogan “More Salvamento Maritimo, less Frontex.” The protest was organized by several groups, including Red Canaria por los Derechos de las Personas Migrantes, Alternativa Antimilitarista-Movimiento de Objeción de Conciencia, Acción Directa no Violenta y Caravana Abriendo Fronteras.

They were joined by activists in several other countries who carried out separate actions, all part of a wider coalition under the slogan “Abolish Frontex.”

In Brussels, demonstrators covered the agency’s office with red paint and posters. In The Hague, people floated life jackets in front of the Dutch parliament, symbolizing the lives lost at sea. Demonstrations also happened in Germany and Austria. On their website, Abolish Frontex explained that they are calling for a complete abolition of the agency, the end of deportations and detention, and actual freedom of movement for all. In the core of Europe, it is easy to forget how much blood the EU has on its hands at the borders, but Abolish Frontex is making sure that people remember.

While deaths at Europe’s borders predate Frontex’s foundation 15 years ago, the agency has only increased the violence at the border since its establishment, while promoting a culture of secrecy and opacity. Just in the past few months, several scandals have been uncovered, exposing the agency’s involvement with illegal pushbacks, undisclosed lobbying, and more. How many more wrongdoings are lurking under the surface? It is hard to see a way to reform this system, which is why many are calling for its abolition.

Abolish Frontex also pointed out the close relationship between the agency and private arms companies, that are dictating European policy and facilitating the deaths of people at the borders through their financial influence. Several of these companies have ties to Israel and their weapons have been deemed “combat proven” in Palestine. Frontex is about to get even more weaponized, as the tender for 2,500 automatic pistols and other weaponry ends in a week.

In official channels, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Migration, Felipe Gonzalez Morales, released his report on pushbacks. However, it is unclear how much effect yet another UN report or condemnation will have on actual EU policy.

SYRIA

Russia blocking aid to Syria

Ahead of the planned summit between Putin and Biden, the US government is expected to plead with the Russians to expand humanitarian aid to Syria. Russia is pressuring the U.N. to scale down a massive humanitarian aid convoy that operates through a select few border crossings in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, and has hinted that it might shut down the program altogether. The government’s argument is that the Syrian regime should oversee aid distribution within its country, something Assad’s government has blocked in the past. Millions of Syrians depend on foreign aid.

TUNISIA

A cemetery for people drowned in the Mediterranean

The southern Tunisian city of Zarzis is now home to a cemetery for people on the move who drowned in the Mediterranean. The cemetery is already home to 200 graves.

LIBYA

Center for vulnerable rampant with abuse

A new, sickening report details the violence against people imprisoned in the Shara Al-Zawya detention center in Tripoli, a center that the EU claimed was “specialized for vulnerable groups.” Many women and girls suffered sexual violence, which drove some to attempt suicide. This is sadly yet another piece of evidence showing that Libyan authorities are not capable of protecting people’s human rights, nor do they want to as the authorities are often the worst perpetrators of abuse. Despite this widespread evidence, the EU is continuing to cooperate with Libyan so-called authorities, including on building a new border agency.

TURKEY

Continued aggression against neighbors

After strikes against Makhmour camp in Iraq that killed several civilians a few days ago, Turkey is showing no sign of backing down with its aggressive, anti-Kurdish rhetoric. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that the government would continue clearing the camp of Kurdish “militants.”

Iraqi Kurdistan is home to countless refugees from Turkey and Iran, as well as to Kurds who are from the area. Now, over a thousand people have been forced to flee the border region due to Turkey’s indiscriminate strikes against civilians in an operation it claims is targeting the Kurdistan Workers Party. However, this aggression has been going on for years, with ordinary families paying the price. Many are afraid that Turkey is planning a semi-permanent operation there, as it did in northern Syria.

GREECE

Government attempts to defend sound cannons

After news spread last week that the Greek government is using sound cannons at the Evros border, the outrage was widespread. Now, the government is attempting to defend its actions by saying, “What the police do, they must do in their own way” (in the words of Migration Minister Mitarakis).

Meanwhile, the EU has clarified that it did not fund the sound cannons directly, although since it funds so many other murderous projects on the external borders, its hands are hardly clean. Ylva Johansson also did not issue a direct condemnation of this violation of human rights, instead calling it “a strange way of protecting your border.” That same day, the official Greek Ministry of Migration’s Facebook page posted a photo of Johansson and Mitarakis gleefully touching elbows and praising the cooperation between the EU and Greece, without a single word addressing the sound cannons.

For more on the sound cannons and other weapons in the Mediterranean, check out this discussion (in German) with MEP Erik Marquardt.

New pact, de facto end to migration access

Even though the New Pact on Migration and Asylum is technically still under discussion, the Greek government has moved ahead with plans that de facto alter the asylum system, without needing consultations from the EU on its actions. Through new closed centers, concrete walls around existing camps, and deals with third countries such as the one with Turkey that we covered in a previous digest, the government is largely closing opportunities for people to apply for asylum. While the member states continue to quarrel, including over “secondary travel” from Greece, it is unlikely that there will be a functioning solidarity mechanism soon, despite Swiss promises that they would join a system that distributes asylum seekers even though they are not an EU member. Meanwhile, the Commission oversees an expansion of border proceedings with very little oversight. Even if the New Pact is never implemented, some of its worst policies could affect the lives of people on the move for a long time to come.

The designation of Turkey as a safe third country for several groups making up the largest asylum applicants in Greece could seriously undermine access to asylum. The European Commission said that Greece will still have to assess people’s applications individually, but Ylva Johansson also said “there can be a swift approach for returns.” It is impossible to thoroughly assess individual cases while deporting people quickly. Once again, the EU is attempting to cover itself rhetorically while doing nothing substantial.

Updates from Lesvos

The Greek government promised that people will not spend another winter in tents on the Greek islands, including Lesvos. However, many are skeptical of this claim, since the “temporary” camp at Mavrovouni has been in place for months with no improvement on its conditions or progress on an alternate setting.

Current conditions on Lesvos are physically and psychologically damaging for the people forced to live in tents. This is taking a particularly high toll on children. There have been 456 children treated for mental health problems in 2019 and 2020 alone. Of those, almost 200 displayed signs of self-harm or had attempted suicide. Who knows how many other children have fallen through the cracks?

The MSF released this information as part of its wider report on the manufactured crisis at the Greek border, a report which you can read here.

Updates from Patras

People in the Port of Patras are reporting “increased pressure” from authorities, according to conversations No Name Kitchen experienced. Some people even reported encountering German officers. The people described arbitrary detention, threats, physical beatings in prison, and pushbacks from Italy. For more on the situation, read No Name Kitchen’s dispatch here.

Updates from Athens

Greek authorities have been caught refusing vaccines to people whose asylum applications were rejected. As Manos Moschopoulos put it, “The virus does not check papers before it infects people.”

Khora Community Kitchen in Athens has reduced its opening times due to a lack of funding. To learn more about their new hours as well as how you can support the organization, go here.

FRANCE

More Calais evictions

The local police harassed people on the move in Calais again under the guise of another expulsion. They destroyed and stole people’s possessions while expelling them. Even though this situation has been going on for years, the state has not shown the will to come up with a permanent solution that will house people on the move.

GERMANY

More deportations from Germany to Afghanistan, despite unsafe conditions

Another 42 people were deported from Germany to Afghanistan, the latest in a shameful practice by the European state. Afghanistan is not a safe country for returnees, despite political maneuvering that attempts to portray otherwise. Meanwhile, new research by Freiderike Stahlmann took the time to actually investigate the situation for Afghan people that had been returned to the country from Germany. It covered the struggle of returnees with violence, security, and rebuilding their lives.

As asylum applications in Germany double, what guarantee is there that people will receive the protection they deserve, while the German government continues to deport people to a country long-deemed one of the most dangerous in the world?

Frankfurt’s tactical police unit is being “restructured” after at least one member was caught participating in far-right chats. One person has been suspended while the other members are under investigation and barred from work until the inquiry is over. Police officers sharing neo-Nazi texts and images is a common recent problem in Germany.

DENMARK

More shameful deportations as ordinary Danes protest

Isa Kali, a young stateless Kurdish man, has also received notice that his residency was revoked as part of the Danish government’s campaign to return Syrians from the Damascus area because it has deemed the capital “safe.” Mr. Kali is not from Damascus and only spent time in the city as a temporary worker. He is stateless because the Syrian government denied citizenship to Kurdish people until 2011. Upon his return, he will almost certainly face conscription and discrimination on the basis of his ethnicity.

Although the government has not showed signs of budging yet, people on the move and Danes are continuing to protest. Students are organizing a school strike and sit-in this Friday.

Unfortunately, the repressive developments in Danish asylum policy are being met with approval from abroad. The Austrian interior minister came out in support of the controversial law to house asylum seekers in third countries while processing their cases.

UK

New billboard project wants to bring situation for people on the move home

A new project called “Conversations from Calais” is attempting to bring the realities of the situation at the border to the front door of many Britons. The graphic reprints excerpts from conversations between volunteers and people on the move. “Conversations from Calais” already has thousands of followers on social media, but the artist behind the project, Mathilda Della Torre, hopes the billboard project will reach more people and counter Home Office narratives.

“You told me you were going to try to get to England tonight. You were silent for a moment, then you said that you came here to live, not to die. You asked if there was anywhere in the world where they would not try to kill you. I couldn’t answer.”

WORTH READING

This article touches on the changes in asylum laws that will be necessary once climate change causes more displacement.

This article follows the Uyghur deportations that many countries are carrying out. Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, among other countries, are indiscriminately following China’s extradition requests.

Find daily updates and special reports on our Medium page.

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Are You Syrious?

Are You Syrious?

Daily news digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and refugees on the route, but also for journalists and other parties.