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AYS Weekend Digest 08–09/05/2021: Frontex’s Europe Day Photo Contest Countered by NGOs

The truth about “peace and unity” in Europe // Libyan authorities break promise about detention releases // Multiple distress cases in the Mediterranean

A response to Frontex’s photo competition for Europe Day, which included the category “Border Landscapes,” from borderline-europe

FEATURE

Exposing the Real Europe on Europe Day

May 9th is Europe Day, which the EU marks to celebrate peace and unity in Europe. What commemorations tend to leave out is that internal “peace and unity” in the EU is currently maintained through brutality and murder on Europe’s external borders, and internally, against people on the move.

One of the worst perpetrators of this violence, Frontex, decided to mark this day with an asinine photo contest for its staff (as well as an Orwellian photo shoot). NGOs and activists responded with photos countering this narrative, exposing the real “European values” that Frontex embodies.

Anonymous organizers also put up posters in Berlin condemning Frontex with the caption “killing people in brand new uniforms,” referencing the cringey roll-out of the agency’s new uniforms a few months ago.

Shockingly, the photo contest did not include a category for “lobbying meetings,” even though there seem to be quite a lot of those going on at the agency. Frontex is belatedly establishing a lobbying transparency register after years of telling reporters that it does not meet with lobbyists, something that is transparently false. A report published months ago called “Lobbying Fortress Europe” outlined the disproportionate impact companies from the arms, surveillance, and biometrics industries have on Frontex (for a video explanation of Frontex and lobbying, in German, go here).

Besides lobbying shadiness, Frontex’s “values” also include spending money on new technology for pushbacks. Friday was allegedly the first time Frontex’s new drone was used. The total cost of the drone mission is about 100 million Euros. There is also no transparency over who controls the Frontex budget, as it is very difficult to exercise control through national parliaments.

Frontex is competent at documenting pushbacks — when they are committed by other forces. A few days ago, Frontex head Fabrice Leggeri wrote a letter to Margaritis Schinas and Ylva Johansson about alleged incidents when the Turkish Coast Guard endangered Frontex boats and pushed people on the move back to Greece. Schinas later met with members of the Frontex standing corps. To be clear, we condemn all pushbacks, no matter which government commits them. However, Frontex criticizing the Turkish Coast Guard while refusing attempts at uncovering the agency’s own complicity in pushbacks is not only selective outrage, but worrisome as previously authorities have used tensions with Turkey as an excuse for more brutal border practices.

In fact, Frontex is set to take on a bigger role in assisted voluntary returns, which have always had an element of coercion that will only get worse with the border agency’s involvement.

With all this information about Frontex, how can we comfortably celebrate European values, knowing what they are? What would we really be celebrating? Hypocrisy, violence at the border, violations of privacy, and racism, just to name a few. We will celebrate “peace and unity” when that includes everyone, not just people lucky enough to be born in the right countries with the right skin color and the right passports.

LIBYA

Promises about detention release not fulfilled

Weeks ago, the new Libyan government promised to release women and children from detention centers for people on the move during Ramadan. Now that Ramadan is almost over, even this symbolic gesture has not been fulfilled.

SEA

Multiple boats in distress in Mediterranean

Over the weekend, AlarmPhone was contacted by a boat with 55 people in distress, by another one with 80 people on board, including a baby that was just 2 months old, and by a third carrying 96 people. All three were in the Maltese SAR zone. The Armed Forces of Malta did not respond to requests for help from AlarmPhone or to requests for comment by journalists. These people are in grave danger. Many are ill after spending several days at sea without food or water. One of the boats is leaking while another is running out of fuel.

There were also several distress cases near Lampedusa. AlarmPhone received a call from a boat carrying 97 people. Overall, Lampedusa saw about a thousand arrivals in 24 hours, arriving in nine boats.

In the Western Mediterranean, 16 people were rescued off the coast of Cartagena.

Included in the hundreds of people in distress on the Mediterranean this weekend are the 140 people that were intercepted and pulled back to Libya, where they will face torture and awful conditions.

While rescue NGOs, including the new ship the Sea Eye 4 which just left its port and the Aita Mari which is returning to the Mediterranean, do their best to help as many people as they can, they cannot save everyone without the cooperation of national authorities. They especially cannot help people when they are tied up in administrative detention, which is what happened to the Alan Kurdi for six months.

For context on how this extraordinary weekend at sea fits into the overall patterns of people moving and European negligence, read SOS Mediterranee’s 2020 report.

GREECE

Funeral of Abdul Jaleel, man who died in Chios

This weekend was the funeral of Abdul Jaleel, a young father who died in the camp in Chios. In this horrific case, his body was found surrounded by rats, exposing the conditions that people are forced to live in.

Rest in peace Mr. Jaleel. No human should ever have to live or die like this.

Another body was found in Evros. In the past month and a half, four people have died in the region trying to cross the border.

Horrifying racial abuse on a bus in Athens: a bus driver and passengers forced a man to give up his seat because he is a foreigner. The man simply asked for people to respect social distancing measures and then received a torrent of racial abuse.

Parwana Amiri, whose words we share frequently, is one of thousands of young Afghans stuck in the Greek camps. If you are not familiar with her story or the situation in Ritsona camp, read a profile here.

SLOVENIA

Polish forces coming to Slovenian-Croatian border

During a meeting between the two Ministers of the Interior, migration was one of the most discussed issues. Poland promised to send police officers to patrol the Slovenian-Croatian border. Officers from other Baltic countries are already at the border.

FRANCE

More Calais evictions

On Saturday morning, French authorities conducted evictions in five different places. They seized 70 tents and 15 tarpaulins. Like during previous evictions, the people will probably be back soon because they have nowhere to go, except now they will not have any shelter.

The busy French authorities also conducted discriminatory ID checks in the Calais train station, targeting people of color.

Amnesty International conducted a survey of people in Calais on their attitudes towards people on the move and volunteers. You can find the results in this article (paywalled).

UK

New Asylum plan receives criticism from European countries, UN

The UNHCR sharply criticized the Home Office’s post-Brexit migration plans, calling them a threat to Britain’s “global credibility.” The plans, which include proposals like deporting people who’ve transited through so-called safe third countries, treating asylum applicants differently based on the method of arrival, and other violations of human rights, go against international laws on refugees. A representative of the UNHCR, Rosella Pagliuchi-Lor, said that the plan threatened to undermine the UN’s refugee convention and threaten international relations.

The plans are also impossible to implement, as not a single European government has agreed to take people deported from the UK. What will likely happen is that people will be imprisoned in administrative detention without the possibility to apply for asylum or leave their situation.

WORTH READING

This short story was written by Tahere Mohamadi during her journey from Iran to Europe.

This story tracks the smuggling routes through the city of Homs, where people attempt to make it into Lebanon or opposition-controlled northern Syria. As many people are still trying to leave Syria, this is an important story to keep in mind as European governments attempt to send people back.

WORTH ATTENDING

This webinar on May 13th will cover the intersection between the immigration system and public health in the UK, and how the system erects barriers to healthcare.

Find daily updates and special reports on our Medium page.

If you wish to contribute, either by writing a report or a story, or by joining the info gathering team, please let us know.

We strive to echo correct news from the ground through collaboration and fairness. Every effort has been made to credit organisations and individuals with regard to the supply of information, video, and photo material (in cases where the source wanted to be accredited). Please notify us regarding corrections.

If there’s anything you want to share or comment, contact us through Facebook, Twitter or write to: areyousyrious@gmail.com

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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.