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AYS Daily Digest 19/02/2021—Fire in Moria 2.0

More returns to Libya//Hundreds in distress at sea//Fire in shanty town for seasonal workers in Spain//& more

The fire in Moria 2.0. Photo via Moria Corona Awareness Team

The residents of Moria 2.0 experienced another fire today, only months after the blaze that destroyed the first camp. The residents put out the fire themselves, as the fire department arrived 10 minutes after the blaze had started. Their work was difficult due to the lack of extinguishers and the cramped tents, making it easy for the fire to spread. Another video of the fire (and the firefighting efforts) can be found here, via Refocus Media Labs.

The families living inside the tent that first caught fire narrowly escaped with their lives and at least one person suffered burns. Their tent was completely destroyed and everything they owned is gone. Although the material damage caused by this fire was not as bad as the one that destroyed the original camp, it still took a psychological toll. The blaze brought up traumatic memories for many residents. Several people had serious reactions to the trauma, including shock, fainting spells, and seizures.

According to the local fire brigade, the fire was probably caused by a short circuit. Although this time luckily there was not too much damage, an accident like this could easily happen again due to a the faulty electrical wiring in the camp—and next time people could get seriously hurt. These are not safe conditions for people to live in.

UNHCR published an analysis by gender of the situation for Syrian people in Lebanon. They found that although all Syrians face poverty and discrimination, women have a harder situation than men.

Our friend Eric from Latitude Adjustment Podcast is looking for help with setting up a fundraiser for people stuck in Arsal. Learn more and reach out to him here.

In a widely circulated video, a senior Syrian government official said that the government would seize assets from people who had not paid their military exemption fines and were older than 42. This would disproportionately affect people who left Syria.

Even as Western governments are beginning to return people to Syria because they have decided it is “safe,” Syrian people are still in danger from a government that is retaliating against its own citizens. The economic situation is also dire, so much so that even the government is getting desperate for funds.

Thousands of Uighur people have sought refuge in Turkey. However, their future seems precarious, as the Turkish government is set to ratify an extradition agreement with China. Members of the Uighur community and their supporters are protesting this decision, feeling that they have been betrayed in favour of political calculus.

Today, 340 people were pulled back to Libya and returned to detention centres.

Meanwhile, the UN’s official fact-finding mission on human rights abuses in Libya during the civil war has not even started yet, eight months after it was first established. Although officially the UN cited the lack of funding as a reason why the mission is delayed, others suggest there might be political reasons in play.

AlarmPhone received information about several distress cases today. In one case, 120 people were in severe distress in international waters. There is no update on their situation yet. Another group of 90 people contacted AlarmPhone and said they had been at sea for over three days. AlarmPhone lost contact with them as well.

In total, the Moonbird spotted six boats in the Mediterranean today, one of which was on fire.

The Aita Mari rescued 148 people today, but were denied any assistance from the Maltese or Italian authorities. They first rescued a boat with 102 people on board and requested assistance, but while they were waiting they encountered another boat in distress with 46 people. Even then, the authorities were of no use despite the fact that the Aita Mari is now responsible for more people than it can legally have on board.

The Sea-Watch 3 is finally leaving port after seven months! Safe sailing, friends.

For a summary of this week in the Mediterranean, read ECRE’s bulletin here.

Lesvos:

Recently, Human Rights Watch published a report on lead contamination in Moria 2.0. You can read more about the situation in their Q&A, which addresses everything from the health effects of lead to the Greek government’s lead testing (which was inadequate, to the surprise of nobody).

Samos:

The Samos Open Assembly condemned the neglect of people on the move by authorities on the local, national and international level. The recent storm means that 3,500 people are now living in worse conditions than before, some even without roofs on their shelters, yet nothing has been done.

Ritsona:

The latest storm damaged many structures in Ritsona Camp, which had to be repaired by residents and groups such as Lighthouse Relief. The storm has only highlighted many of the ongoing problems in Ritsona, such as precarity, state neglect, and more. From Parwana Amiri’s “Letters to the World From Ritsona”:

”Would you stay silent?”

If you would be one of us, here in Ritsona camp, far from the town, isolated, without access to any decent services that would cater to your basic needs, would you remain silent?

Northern Greece:

About 800 people who were living in hostels in Grevena have had to leave their accommodation. Those still waiting for an asylum decision will be resettled elsewhere.

General

An important update: HELIOS is changing how they distribute their rent subsidies. More information can be found here.

This article (in Greek) offers an interesting insight on the internal political dynamics in Greece, where the ostensibly central government manipulates the narrative about people on the move and NGOs.

We end with this truly bizarre question from the Greek citizenship exam:

The island’s mayor announced that an abandoned quarry will be turned into a memorial for people who drowned in the Mediterranean, especially the victims of the 2013 shipwreck that killed 360 people. The memorial, a reflection centre, and a nearby theatre will be designed by Vincenzo Latina.

Many people are still crossing the Alpine route from Italy into France, despite its dangers. Associations like Refuge in the town of Oulx give people the winter equipment that they need in order to survive the crossing, as well as information about their rights. Read more about their work here.

A settlement for migrant workers caught fire this morning near the town of Palos de la Frontera, in the southern province of Andalucia. About half of the people of the 800 who live there are now homeless and have lost all their possessions, including legal documents.

Local associations criticized the government for not immediately providing shelter to people and for allowing them to live in such dangerous conditions in the first place. The government responded by saying that it distributed food and clothing, and that housing is the responsibility of the central government.

The origins of the fire are not yet known, although some are speculating that it was intentional.

Solidary Wheels reported on the situation in Melilla, where people are thrown out of their accommodation immediately after turning 18 and lose many rights, including the right to seek justice.

The day after your 18th birthday in Melilla is the day you start living on the streets, and living on the streets means being invisible.

To end this section on a good note: here is the story of a Norwegian hotel owner in Gran Canaria who opened her hotel to people on the move and went above and beyond to create a home-like environment for the people staying there.

Earlier this week, the Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’Homme published its report on the situation in Calais and Grand-Synthe. They condemned the continuous evictions and systemic violence.

In the south, on the border with Italy, advocates are condemning the French government’s pushbacks into Italy. People, including families with young children and pregnant women, are denied the right to apply for asylum.

A Sudanese man killed an immigration official in the city of Pau, allegedly after his asylum request was denied. Our thoughts are with the family of the victim.

However, we cannot let politicians weaponize this tragedy as an excuse to crack down further on people on the move. Already members of the far-right National Assembly party are calling for the suspension of the right to asylum altogether.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Integration wants to double repatriation of people on the move living in Denmark. His government has just concluded an agreement stating that municipalities should interview foreign citizens who have been unemployed long-term and tell them about repatriation “opportunities.”

On a somewhat related note, the Centre for Advanced Migration Studies is hosting an event on “Danish desires to export asylum responsibility to camps outside Europe.” Learn more here.

Fifty people on the move were supposed to be resettled in Norway from Greece. However, due to a COVID-19 outbreak in a transit centre, this has been pushed back to March.

The lengthy time it takes the UK government to process applications for asylum causes people to have serious trouble finding employment. About two thirds of people seeking asylum wait more than a year for their decision, and they are not allowed to work while they are waiting. This means that even after they receive legal status in the UK, they have difficulty finding work because of the gaps in their work history.

One such person is Stella. Stella has been waiting for an interview with the Home Office, let alone a final decision, for over two years. You can watch an interview with her here.

The UK‘s restrictions on people’s ability to work are the strictest in Europe. For a long time, people on the move and their allies have been asking for these restrictions to be relaxed so that people can support themselves and integrate better into British society.

At least eleven hotels for people on the move, most of them in London, are severely restricting the freedom of movement of their residents. An anonymous person is seeking justice from the Home Office for those unjust restrictions, including a “curfew” that lasts twenty-three hours a day and security guards at the door. If people on the move take longer than an hour to do their essential shopping, then their asylum chances get affected.

Local London councils and charities have already raised questions about the way people are treated in these hotels, citing tiny rooms and terrible food as cause for concern. Meanwhile in Kent, doctors are continuing to speak out against the use of the Napier Barracks.

Last month, photographer Andy Aitchison was arrested for taking photos of a demonstration in front of the Napier Barracks. Although the charges against him were dismissed, the police still issued him a Fixed Penalty Notice for about two hundred pounds. The police later walked back the fine and said it was given by mistake, but it seems suspiciously like an attempt to intimidate a journalist and curtail freedom of the press.

Despite the investigations into its reliability and transparency, the EU border agency is not only allowed to act as usual, it is continuing its plans for expansion. Frontex has published a video of their first cohort of standing corps officers training. In the video, officers are seen training with guns, even though the Frontex Files revealed that Leggeri’s coordination with the weapons industry happened “without legal basis.”

Frontex has also expanded its involvement with Operation Irini, the European operation responsible for enforcing the arms embargo against Libya. Many, including MEPs like Tineke Strik, are against this development because of the lack of clarity around Frontex’s responsibilities and the agency’s frequent collaboration with the so-called Libyan Coast Guard.

Meanwhile Frontex is under another investigation by the European Ombudsman for hiding the locations of its ships in the Aegean Sea. NGOs are currently fighting to suspend the agency’s operations in the sea altogether. Additionally, the German Bar Association is joining the call to guarantee fair treatment under the law at external borders alone following the revelations in the Frontex Files.

It is worth noting that the EU as an entity is not a member of the European Convention on Human Rights.

What has happened to the EU’s New Pact on Migration and Asylum? Although the initial flurry of discussion has died down, the legislative process is still working and advocates should not become complacent and think that the pact is gone for good, according to this editorial from ECRE.

ELENA published their weekly legal update, which you can read here.

ECRE also published their weekly bulletin, which you can read here.

On Monday, February 22nd, Routed Magazine is hosting an online event on the situation for people on the move in Greece and Lebanon in 2020. Learn more here.

On March 6th there will be a pan-European event showing solidarity with people on the move. Learn more here.

We want to end this digest on a note of remembrance. The Serbian singer-songwriter Đorđe Balašević passed away today. He was beloved across the Balkans for his music and his dedicated anti-war activism. He was a symbol of tolerance and peace and will be sorely missed.

Here is his song, “Samo Da Rata Ne Bude” (Just Don’t Let There Be a War). Laka ti bila zemlja, velikane.

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Are You Syrious?

News digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and people on the move, but also for journalists, decision makers and other parties.