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AYS Daily Digest 19/01/2021—Debate on Humanitarian Situation at Borders in EU Parliament

Awful Conditions in Arsal, Lebanon// Crackdown on NGOs in Cyprus// Turkey Will Not Accept Deportations from Greece// & More

Image source: The Left in the European Parliament

FEATURE

EU Parliament debate on humanitarian situation at external borders

Today was the second day of the European Parliament’s January plenary session. On the agenda was a debate on the “humanitarian situation of refugees and migrants at the EU’s external borders.”

MEPs made speeches highlighting the situation for people on the move in Bosnia & Herzegovina and elsewhere. You can watch the full debate here.

EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson spoke about the existing discussions and measures taken to prevent violence at the border, however her speech accidentally exposed the weaknesses in the EU’s existing monitoring and humanitarian policy. She highlighted the work the Commission has done with the Croatian government to increase monitoring at the border, but can the government be trusted to monitor itself?

Members of the Party of the European Left in the European Parliament highlighted the extensive existing knowledge about the border violence that the EU is complicit in. Swedish MEP Malin Bjork raised the Black Book of Pushbacks, put together by Border Violence Monitoring Network and released by the European Left in the European Parliament. “I am so fed up with people saying ‘alleged pushbacks,’” she said, “we have here a documentation of 1,500 pages that has testimonies of the brutality and the violence at EU borders.”

MEP Tineke Strik highlighted the “substandard and shameful conditions” in Bosnia & Herzegovina and on the Greek islands. Meanwhile, MEP Erik Marquardt highlighted the futility of debating the same issues, year after year, without taking any action. “Yesterday I was watching that debate [from last year] and we should be ashamed for having to make exactly the same speeches, that we made one year ago, The Council, the Commission, and the Parliament again.”

Also under debate right now is the integrity of Frontex. Calls are mounting for the Frontex director, Fabrice Leggeri, to resign after reports that he deliberately misled the European Parliament. Statewatch obtained a letter from Monique Perlat, the Director-General of migration and home affairs in the European Commission, to Leggeri that was written in December. In the letter, Perlat chastises Leggeri for misleading the European Commission on important matters such as the recruitment of fundamental rights officers and publishing vacancies without obtaining the approval of the Management Board.

It’s clear that Leggeri is becoming an increasingly unpopular figure among the EU establishment and could be removed from office. However, removing him without changing EU border policy, abolishing Frontex or even reforming the agency will not make any meaningful change. Many, including MEP Sophie in ’t Veld, have pointed out the larger structural issues within Frontex, but those are harder to fix than removing one blatantly mendacious director.

It is clear that real change is needed for EU border policies. Otherwise, the MEPs will have to make their speeches yet again at the debate next year.

LEBANON

Awful conditions in Arsal

Over 15,000 displaced people from Syria are living in the border town of Arsal in Lebanon, with no protection from the cold. In 2019, the government ordered them to dismantle their shelters and since then, they have not had access to other housing. The pandemic has also impacted peoples’ ability to make a living, made harder by the curfews, which are often put in place by the authorities as a tactic of discrimination against Syrians.

CYPRUS

Crackdown on NGOs working in solidarity with people on the move

The Cypriot Minister of Interior Affairs has de-registered many civil society organizations, including KISA, on the grounds of minor errors in paperwork. However, the decision is transparently a political one. Since his appointment, the minister has publicly defamed organizations working with people on the move by accusing them of collaborating with Turkey, and of money laundering. In this press release, KISA outlines the escalation against NGOs, stating firmly that they will fight this decision.

SEA

Tunisians biggest group in arrivals to Italy

“Tunisians: the first nationality of people on the move on the Central Mediterranean route towards Italy. 38% of arrivals since Nov. 30th. The number of Tunisians crossing the Mediterranean is growing, exceeding the departures from the Libyan coast.”

GREECE

Turkey will not accept people deported from Greece

Last week, Greece announced that it expects Turkey to accept 1,450 people who have had their asylum claims rejected in Greece. However, a source for the EU Observer said that Turkey will not accept these deportations and will not reevaluate until the pandemic is under control.

The sources also noted that Greece, along with other EU member states, is not itself currently accepting the entry of Turkish citizens because of the coronavirus.

The Greek government demanded the EU’s intervention, but all the Commission said is that they are preparing a reply. Until then, what will happen to those 1,450 people who are now stuck in legal limbo?

Lesvos Updates

One man has died of the cold on the coast of Lesvos after crossing the sea in a boat with 27 others.

The director of Moria 2.0 has banned camp residents from photographing and sharing images of their living conditions, in a transparent attack on free speech.

The Press Project and Disinfaux Collective published the fifth part of their series, “Sketching the Far Right in Lesvos.” You can find it (in Greek) here. In other news on the far right, former Golden Dawn MEP Giannis Lagos lost his appeal against his conviction in an attack on a community center in 2013. Lagos was already convicted in the Golden Dawn trials last year, but is not serving his jail sentence because he is in Brussels and his MEP status gives him immunity.

Solidarity roundup

On Samos, the We Are One Center is hosting vulnerable women, including those who are pregnant or have young babies, as conditions outdoors are freezing. Current weather conditions in Samos are harsh and there are thousands of people living in the camp and the informal settlement known as The Jungle, away from even the most basic shelter provided in the camp.

On Lesvos, Moria Corona Awareness Team, Stand By Me Lesvos, Hope Project and Moria White Helmets have collected and distributed warm clothes to people in need.

The group Solidarity With Migrants will be collecting necessities this Thursday to drop off at Malakasa Camp 1 (and Camp 2 if possible). Find a list of all that they need and how to donate here.

ROMANIA

Action organized to feed people on the move in Timișoara

Timișoara, Romania 17 January 2021. Photo and post via Art Against

Action to feed refugees. Refugees try to survive the journey to Europe from Servia-Romania route during freezing winter, snow weather, fear of deportation and coronavirus pandemic. In solidarity we trust.

Photographs by Tania Strizu /Dreptul la Oraș

Art Against

BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA

Human rights violations in Lipa

People are still living in bad conditions across Bosnia & Herzegovina. In Lipa camp, there is no hot water. Although millions of euros have been allocated by the EU to “help” people on the move in Bosnia & Herzegovina (most via the IOM), most people on the move in BiH do not have adequate housing.

There have been five complaints about the violation of media freedom to the official Line for Helping Journalists. Officials in Lipa camp have blocked journalists from moving around freely and tried to take the journalists’ possessions and footage by force. The Association of BH Journalists contacted the authorities and requested the protection of media freedom.

Although Lipa has been the focus of international attention, especially following the devastating fire, as the photojournalist Livio Senigalliesi said, “there are hundreds of Lipas” thanks to the EU’s militarized border which traps people in the Balkans.

SLOVENIA

Awful Conditions in Postojna Center

People on the move in the Postojna center are living in awful conditions. They are subject to police violence, such as the harassment of an eighteen-year-old in a bathroom without cameras, solitary confinement, injuries, and more. People are calling for the camp’s closure due to the unthinkable conditions.

ITALY

Hunger strike against pushbacks

A relay hunger strike promoted by a number of organizers, including the Italian activist network Diritti accoglienza solidarietà internazionale DASI, will happen during January and February. Their goal is to “stigmatize” chain pushbacks from Italy into the Balkans and ask for a reallocation program for people stuck in Bosnia. Italian Catholic organizations also denounced the conditions in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

SPAIN

Illegal detentions on Canary Islands

People in the military camp Barranco Seco have now been detained for over 15 days, even though the law says that people can only be kept in these camps for 72 hours.

Around 150 people tried to cross the fence that separates the Spanish enclave of Melilla from Morocco. Nine were hospitalized after they were injured by the razor-wire-topped fence. Most others were taken to a local accommodation center.

AUSTRIA

President Calls for More International Cooperation

In his New Year’s address, Federal President Alexander Van Der Bellen said that the international community needs to cooperate more on climate policy and asylum policy. He said that the conditions in Greece and Bosnia & Herzegovina “deeply shame him,” and that asylum politics should follow the Geneva Convention on Refugees.

The Federal Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, has not proven to be as sympathetic and has resisted calls by Austrian mayors and advocacy groups to take in more people from camps in Greece. The group SOS Mitmensch, protested in front of his office and put up two large blocks of ice, symbolizing the Chancellor’s “cold shoulder” towards people on the move.

GERMANY

Police Crackdown on Smuggling Ring

The German police raided a human trafficking ring that has allegedly smuggled 140 people into Germany since 2019. Around 400 officers were part of the operation to arrest the suspects.

While the government arrests traffickers, with its other hand it threatens to deport victims of trafficking. One Eritrean woman is in danger of deportation to Italy under the Dublin Regulation, even though this will put her within reach of her traffickers. This is unfortunately not an uncommon case. The woman is seeking church sanctuary, but recently the German government has cracked down on churches offering sanctuary, even threatening religious leaders with fines and imprisonment.

UK

Napier barracks on lockdown after COVID-19 outbreak

Today we have more information on the COVID-19 outbreak in the barracks near Kent that are used to house people on the move. Police officers are enforcing the isolation order. Although the Home Office has not released official numbers, residents said that their independent tallies show that about 100 positive cases of coronavirus have been returned. Although the private contractor managing the site, Clearsprings, said that people who tested positive would be isolated, people on the ground have said that this is not the case and people are still using communal dining facilities and sleeping in blocks that host up to 28 men.

Of course, the government refuses to accept responsibility for housing people in unsafe conditions after months of protests by people on the move and their advocates. Instead, the government are blaming the people for getting sick, claiming that people refused to self-isolate or take tests. How are people expected to self-isolate when they share a bedroom with more than 20 others?

The Home Office is continuing to put off creating a resettlement plan for people on the move. However, if they do not put one together quickly, there will no longer be the capacity to host people as many organizations working with people on the move will be forced to lay off their employees. The existing program is ending in only two months.

EU

Statewatch wins fight for greater transparency

Following Statewatch’s complaints to the European Ombudsman in December of 2019, Frontex and Europol have committed to ensuring greater transparency of their documents. They must now establish a public register listing all documents they possess. While Europol had an existing register that was simply inadequate, Frontex never had one, even though the agency was established a decade and a half ago.

One interesting Frontex-related document that is already available: this transcript of Leggeri’s appearance in front of the LIBE Committee on December first.

The EU is allegedly close to renewing its “Joint Way Forward” agreement with Afghanistan that would allow deportations to continue, even as violence has continued into the new year.

This article outlines the EU’s vaccine policy with regards to people without papers. In October 2020, the European Commission said that all people unable to physically distance, such as those in homeless shelters or camps, could be priority groups for receiving the vaccine. However, a plan is not enough and outreach capacities must be developed.

WORTH READING

This article (from December) about Norway’s strict COVID-19 border measures that have separated families. Especially interesting is the fact that over the summer Norway reopened for European tourism before it allowed relatives from countries not in the EU to visit their loved ones.

This poignant article takes a look at the rise in suicide among the Iraqi Kurdish community, especially in camps for displaced Kurdish Yazidis.

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.