AYS Daily Digest 14/08/2020 — Malta Shirks Duty to Rescue People…Again
Updates on Situation in Chios///Life on the Balkan Route///More People Trying to Leave Algeria///& More Stories
Malta Ignores Duty to Rescue Those in Distress…Again
After yesterday’s feature, we bring another story about Maltese authorities refusing to rescue people. Early Friday morning, AlarmPhone posted that they were contacted overnight by a boat in distress in the Maltese SAR zone. Approximately eleven people on board had fled from Libya.
Later, AlarmPhone were contacted by a relative of someone on board, who said the people reached Sicily safely after the Armed Forces of Malta provided the people with fuel. Their duty was to rescue the people in distress, not send them on a longer journey!
This pattern of ignoring rescues or pushing them towards Italy or Libya is a violation of international law, which obliges country to rescue ships in distress that are in their SAR. Additionally, it could cause a diplomatic incident with Italy. A similar incident occurred in May, when a Maltese navy vessel refused to rescue a boat in distress and gave them fuel and directions to Italy instead. That incident caused tension between the two states, and this one might as well. The Maltese government often calls for more European solidarity, but these actions are not likely to endear them to fellow European states, or anybody who cares about basic human rights.
Meanwhile, 27 people are still on the merchant ship Etienne, 10 days after they were rescued by the cargo ship in the Maltese SAR zone. Malta is refusing them permission to enter port. It is unacceptable to play with people’s lives like this, stranding them at sea over and over again!
Assad’s Regime Goes After Palestinians
Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus was once a vital center for the Palestinian diaspora, but after its destruction during the war, occupation by ISIS and the displacement of many of its residents, its erasure may become permanent as the government is looking to redevelop the area. You can read more about this here, from Al Araby.
Free Dental Clinic in Beirut
Updates from Vial Camp on Chios
Like we reported yesterday, the Vial Camp on Chios has been put on lockdown until August 25th because two people tested positive for COVID-19. However, it is impossible for people to protect themselves inside the camp due to the overcrowding and lack of access to water and protective equipment.
There are reports of protests and clashes in the camp in response to the lockdown conditions. People are more than right to be angry since very little concern is paid to their health. The above photo came from a camp resident, who showed how the food distribution lines were poorly organized despite lobbying to find a different, more socially distanced solution. They also had this to say:
No one took any attention of us. They think we are animals, without any mind!
Just imagine if you were in our place.
I am worried for my mother, she has diabetes, a heart condition and breathing problem. My mother was registered by the authorities as a vulnerable case, but they didn’t do anything for her.
There are many vulnerable people like my mother.
When we ask them to do something they just say ‘we can’t.’
If they can’t then who can?!’
On Friday, the New York Times published a story detailing the illegal pushbacks the Greek government has been conducting for the past several months (story is behind a paywall). The article features detailed photos, videos, and testimonies of people that suffered the pushbacks. One man was even kidnapped and deported despite having had legal residency for several months.
It’s a little shameful that it took so long for major news outlets to begin writing about this issue. However, hopefully a story in such a prominent outlet like the New York Times can raise awareness.
As expected, the Greek government categorically denied that they are committing pushbacks despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Deputy Minister of Immigration and Asylum George Koumoutsakos went a step further and justified the pushbacks by calling Greece “the shield of Europe” and using the pandemic to fearmonger about people on the move. It’s troubling that a minister for immigration feels emboldened to use such rhetoric which takes pages from the far-right.
While the denials continue, Aegean Boat Report brings news of another illegal pushback. On Thursday night, the Turkish Coast Guard rescued 83 people who were pushed back by the coast guard based on Symi. You can read more about the incident on Aegean Boat Report’s Facebook page. They are also asking people to call the port police of Symi to condemn this action.
Poor conditions characterize camps across Greece. People stuck in Malakasa to the north of Athens report poor housing, in shipping containers and tents that are offered no protection from the heat, and terrible food. They are unable to apply for asylum because registration slots via Skype are extremely limited. You can read more about their situation here.
A notice posted in Moria by the Greek government showed new payment assistance plans for people on the move—starting in September, a family of three that receives meals will only receive 160 euros a month. Where is the money from the EU going, if people on the move are not receiving liveable stipends? There have been several investigations into embezzlement of funds, but nothing has been done yet.
In addition to lack of access to crucial services, people residing in Greek camps face violence, both physical and sexual. A police officer in Amygdaleza assaulted a woman detained in the camp while he was escorting her to a doctor’s visit. The officer was apparently involved in a previous incident. How many other incidents of sexual violence have occured in Amygdaleza and other camps that have not come to light?
In Drama in northern Greece, extremists attacked the house of a local family twice. After the first attack on August 5th, the residents called the police but they refused to take a statement or offer protection against future attacks. On August 12th, the house was attacked again. Instead of investigating, the police barely took a statement and reacted harshly when a local ally tried to help the people. They people since moved to a safer house, but they should never have had to leave their home or face violence.
In another self-organized initiative, Moria residents set up The Wave of Hope for the Future School, which teaches children and adults. You can read more about the school, and other self-organized initiatives in Moria, here.
Life on the Balkan Route
The Facebook page, “Life of migrants on the Balkan road to Europe,” shared disturbing photos of people on the move brutalized, probably by police. It is unacceptable that people simply trying to reach a better life are met with this much violence!
In addition to physical violence, people on the move in the Balkans do not have access to resources and often have their belongings stolen by police. No Name Kitchen regularly distributes clothing, hygiene items, and now bug repellent to people on the move. They’ve been asked to extend distributions in the camps as well, saying, “we have heard from numerous sources that clothing is rarely provided or only allocated to those most favoured by the commissariat.” Where is the official money going, if people have to rely on a volunteer organization for clothing? You can read their full report here.
NNK also reported that more and more people are going through Bosnia and living in informal housing around Bihac. People on the move in Bihac are facing violence from the police. Yesterday, the police attacked a 16-year-old boy, leaving him bloody. Where is the outrage from international institutions?
UNHCR released asylum statistics from the Balkans and you can access them here.
More and More People Leaving Algeria
More and more people are trying to leave Algeria. At the end of July, about 418 Algerians arrived in the Spanish region of Murcia. The Spanish minister of the Interior met with the Algerian interior minister in Algiers and advocated for “preventative measures” against immigration. Namely, the Spanish government wants the Algerians to do the dirty work of enforcing their border for them. Yet again, Europe is outsourcing its border control to Africa, and it will be desperate people searching for a better life that will probably pay the price.
On Tuesday, a young child drowned off the coast of Annaba in northeastern Algeria, after the makeshift boat his family was trying to cross the Mediterranean on was overturned. The rest of the group was saved by the Coast Guard. This is what happens when safe, legal routes of movement are not available.
El Hiblu 3 Go On Trial
Three young people are on trial in Malta for taking over the merchant ship El Hiblu 1 that was set to return them and 105 other people to Libya. They are facing terrorism charges.
Numerous human rights organizations are condemning the trial. Amnesty International called the charges “disproportionate.” The oldest of the trio was only 19 when the incident happened, and the other two were younger than 18—all of them, just children that were facing uncertain futures. If they returned to Libya, they would almost certainly have faced torture and violence in Libya’s notorious detention centers. The El Hiblu 1 actually committed the first violation of international law by returning people to Libya, which is not considered a safe third country.
The latest in UNHCR figures from Libya can be found here.
Lepe City Council Evicts Workers Protesting in front of Town Hall
A group of seasonal workers were camping in front of the town of hall of the Andalucian town of Lepe in protest of their housing situation. Almost 30 days after their shacks burned down, the authorities still hadn’t found housing for them.
Instead of doing something to help these people, the town authorities organized an eviction during dawn, when most people were asleep or praying. A shelter is being built by an NGO, but it probably won’t be finished for another two months. Until then, where will the people live?
Mare Liberum Will Set Sail Again, Despite German Law Change
Activists from the human rights group Mare Liberum said they would still set sail to monitor illegal pushbacks in the Aegean, despite a German law change that has grounded them since June. The change in safety regulations affected all German-flagged humanitarian ships when they were reclassified from leisure crafts to merchant vessels. The reclassification brings with it higher safety standards that the Mare Liberum, a boat built in1917, simply cannot meet. There has been no indication that the previous safety standards were causing any real danger.
Horrible Conditions on the UK-France Border
Even as dehumanizing rhetoric from UK politicians and media rolls in, the reality for people on the ground is much different. The Guardian and The Mirror spoke with people on the move in Dunkirk and Calais and the organization Care4Calais. They highlighted how difficult life is for people on the move in France, and why people are hoping to reach England. Hopefully this will help British people realize what people on the move have to face.
In northern France, the police are very violent and carry out evictions about every two days, forcing people to board buses and destroying their property. Just Friday, Care4Calais reported a mass eviction in Dunkirk, where people were bused to places across France and had their tents and phones destroyed. You can donate to Care4Calais’ Evictions Emergency Appeal Fund, which helps provide people with housing after their tents are destroyed by French police.
Keep Free School Meals For All Children!
A list of sixty organizations, including Choose Love, are calling on the government of the UK to permanently extend free school meals to all children in low-income families, regardless of immigration or citizenship status. The government has said it might soon stop providing free meals to children in NPRF, or “No Recourse to Public Funds” Families. For many kids, a free lunch in school is the only healthy meal they get all day.
The reluctance of the UK government to grant even this most basic resource to innocent children shows the extent of the hostile environment in the UK. This article details the steps people seeking asylum in the UK have to take in order to receive a positive decision, and the hardships they face along the way.
RSA and Pro-Asyl Weigh In On New Pact on Migration
The organizations Refugee Support Aegean and Pro-Asyl published their observations on the new Roadmap for the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum. Their observations advocate for more agency granted to people on the move, such as giving people the right to challenge relocation assignments, making independent legal assistance available to all asylum seekers, and more. You can read their full feedback here.
1,200 Missing People Probably Underreported, Says IOM
According to the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, which tracks deaths and disappearances of people on the move, 1,200 people lost their lives during the first half of 2020 in the process of migration. However, the actual total is probably much higher due to the difficulty of accurately tracking these tragedies due to the pandemic, “invisible shipwrecks,” and other factors.
Bertolt Brecht’s Refugee Conversations was finally translated into English in 2019 and is a welcome challenge to the xenophobic rhetoric that plagues us today. You can read more about the work here.
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