AYS Daily Digest 10/02/2020 — Greek Government Forges Ahead With Plans For Closed Centers
Christian Returnees Have No Support in Afghanistan/// 91 People Left to Drown Off the Coast of Libya/// Storm Damages Tents in Italy/// Home Office Deports People to Jamaica Despite Court Order///
Feature — Developments in Greek Government’s Plan to Criminalize People on the Move
Authorities announced the locations of new, closed holding centers on the Aegean Islands that have been in the works on Monday. The government will “buy” land (really it is being requisitioned) on Lesvos, Chios and Samos and build on existing government property on Kos and Leros.
Government spokesman Stelios Petsas explained this decision by saying “The government has decided to close today’s anarchic facilities and create controlled, closed facilities… controlled closed structures mean defined and strict rules of internal order, which concern both the operation of the centers and the movement of the guests.”
The planned “rules of internal order” will most certainly be strict: centers will be closed at night, people on the move will only be entitled to controlled “exit cards for a specified amount of time,” and violation of these and other strict rules will count against an applicant’s asylum claim and lead to their deportation. Clearly, this is yet another strategy to deny the rights of people on the move through impossible living conditions and increase the influence of the surveillance state on them.
The planned rules have been revised from the original concept of the closed centers after the EU ruled that the Greek government would violate international migration law.
Even with the new information about the closed centers, there are many questions to be answered. The spokesman said that the new centers will be for “new arrivals, those with abusive behavior, and those not eligible to asylum and in procedure to be deported.” If the old camps will be closed, where will people who are currently living there and waiting for their asylum decisions go? Pantelis Vroulis, a public health officer at Chios, pointed out that the government’s plan does not account for the 60,000 people that will be trapped in Greece even after the new centers are built. How is the government going to determine who exhibits abusive behavior? Given the violent police reaction to peaceful protest on Lesvos last week, this special classification of “abusive behavior” could be used to silence protesters. If people being deported and those who are allegedly abusive are so dangerous that they need to be locked up in closed centers, what measures are being taken to guarantee security for new arrivals, that will include women, children and other vulnerable people?
The process around the land requisitionment are also unclear. Taking the land was justified by a legislative act that authorized the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum to act “for reasons of public interest and crisis management and to avoid jeopardizing public order and health,” Petsas explained. It is true that the camps are facing a public health crisis and have been for years. A recent report showed conditions on Chios, where the center is overcrowded by at least 4,000 people beyond capacity. City officials are unable (or unwilling) to keep up with the sheer amount of trash collection necessary, meaning garbage is piling up next to where people live. This has already caused rodent infestations and disease and it is only thanks to the cold weather that conditions have not been worse. Conditions across the different camps are horrendous — people lack access to clean water and medical care.
Poor health conditions are part of what motivated the protests at Moria, but people were calling for freedom, not new, more restrictive camps. Instead, the protests have been co-opted by the Greek government to justify their repressive policies. Government officials cited the events on Lesvos as proof that the current system allows anarchy to flourish and that they need more control. Additionally, the government blamed NGOs for inciting the protests and working with human traffickers. These accusations are blatantly false, but are likely to stick since criminalisation of solidarity workers has proven to be successful across the globe. Not only does accusing NGOs allow the Greek government (and the EU) to avoid taking the blame for its neglect, it can allow the Greek government to shut out independent oversight in the new, closed centers if it wants to.
Greek locals are already blaming NGOs for the continued presence of asylum seekers on the islands. Unverified rumors about NGOs taking people’s land to give to people on the move spread quickly because it confirms people’s beliefs that asylum seekers are receiving special help at their expense. In some places, hatred against NGOs has moved beyond sentiment and rumor. After the protests on Lesvos, far-right actors from the village of Moria, with the help of Greek police, set up a blockade to stop people on the move and solidarity workers from entering the village. One person who was stopped and forced to turn away was even a resident of Moria, but because he works for an NGO he was denied entry.
Locals have long expressed opposition against the planned closed centers, although motivated more by xenophobia than by humanitarian concerns. People do not want new centers, they want all people on the move off of the islands and frequently use far-right rhetoric like “taking our land back” to describe the situation. Forcefully taking people’s land to build already unpopular prison centers is unlikely to win over any new supporters. The land on Lesvos belongs to the municipality, but we do not know yet if most of the properties taken belong to municipalities, private owners, or the Greek Church. So far there has been no reaction from local governments, but it is unlikely they will stay quiet for long.
Building closed centers is part of a larger plan to stop free movement and applications for asylum, which will include a new Directorate of Migrant Returns and a floating wall in the Aegean. The government claims that 84 people were already returned in January but wants to escalate to “200 deportations a week.” Many of these deportations and asylum denials are done irregularly, without following proper procedure.
Christian People Deported to Afghanistan Face Special Persecution
This weekend we published information about the support all returnees are denied in Afghanistan, but the situation is especially bad for Christian returnees. Christian converts are some of the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan due to strong social stigma and laws against conversion of religion. They must either keep their religion a secret or lose support from family, friends and the rest of society. They often face difficulty in finding jobs and fulfilling their basic needs.
Christian returnees are especially vulnerable because many post openly about their religion online while they are in Europe, meaning they do not have the option, heart-breaking as it is, to keep their religion a secret. They have no access to support networks to try and rebuild their lives in Afghanistan and many are living in hiding or trying to leave Afghanistan again.
Despite knowing this and other information about the dangerous conditions in Afghanistan, European governments such as Sweden and Austria continue deportations.
91 People Left to Drown in the Mediterranean
Early Sunday morning, Alarm Phone was contacted by a boat in distress trying to escape Libya. The organization spent hours contacting the Libyan Coast Guard and the MRCC Rome, but both organizations denied to take responsibility, enact a rescue mission, or even search for survivors. A spokesperson for the Libyan coast guard even said “they did not conduct a rescue operation yet as the detention centers are full & they need a solution.”
On Monday, journalist Angela Caponnetto tweeted that the Libyan Coast Guard announced that it had found 91 people drowned off of the coast of Tripoli. Alarm Phone was unable to confirm that these were the same people that contacted them, but it is likely. These deaths are on the hands of the Libyan Coast Guard and the EU, which prefers to let people die for the sake of its borders.
The rescue ship Aita Mari, run by the Spanish organization SMH, rescued 158 people, putting it over capacity. It was on its way towards Lampedusa, where it hoped to dock.
BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA
Bosnian Government Has No Strategy to Help People on the Move
Storm Damages Tents That People on the Move Were Forced to Live In
The storm, near the Italian city of Foggia in Puglia, destroyed the tents of 20 people on the move. They were temporary workers on nearby farms living there after a nearby tent city was destroyed in December. No people were hurt because they passed the storm in containers and in shacks where other people on the move live.
As a solution and to prevent future weather damage, the prefect of Foggia said he would request more housing from the regional government — such as containers. The possibility of offering people on the move dignified housing in real, stable structures was never brought up.
Migration Agency Adjusts Prognosis About 2020 Asylum Claims
The Agency now claims 23,000 people will seek asylum in Sweden in 2020, up from its original estimate of 21,000. It also predicted that most applications will come from people from Syria and South America. The agency acknowledged the increases in people on the move in the Eastern Mediterranean and along the Balkan route, but still kept its prediction for asylum applications low and its prediction for approved applications even lower.
The reason behind this surprisingly low number is the strictness of Swedish asylum law since 2015. The Agency did not mention this in their report, but the draconian law is working as the government intended — to deter asylum claims.
Home Office Deports People to Jamaica Despite Court Order, Protests
UK campaigners fought hard to stop the deportation of people to Jamaica, some who have been in the country for decades. An attempt by Duncan Public Law to apply for an injunction to stop the Jamaican charter flight was refused, although the organization is renewing their application. Detention Action was able to appeal many of the deportation decisions and get many people pulled off of the flight because they were denied contact with lawyers during the deportation process thanks to faulty O2 network coverage. However, there have been reports of people covered by the Court of Appeals decision who were forcibly removed to the airport anyway by authorities. Despite the court decision, the deportation flight proceeded anyway. The Home Office issued a statement saying “We make no apology for trying to protect the public from serious, violent and persistent foreign national offenders.”
Last year, five men were murdered after their deportation to Jamaica.
In another demonstration, Alarm Phone Manchester organized a vigil in memory of people on the move who perished at sea and in support of a caravan currently making its way from Algeria and Morocco. The march was to remember the lives of people who perished because of the EU’s borders and to call for open borders.
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