Are You Syrious?
Aug 12 · 15 min read

Hundreds of new arrivals on Aegean islands // Women and children’s center attacked on Lesvos // Police raids threaten refugees in Athens // Anti-refugee paramilitary groups in Croatia and Slovenia // Terror attack against Mosque in Oslo // Iraqis lose residency under tightening Danish asylum laws // and more…

Brothers sitting outside of a refugee camp, Greece. Photo Credit: Gabriel Tizon

Feature: Civilian ships continue rescues with hundreds stranded on board

There are currently hundreds of people stranded aboard rescue ships in the Mediterranean, waiting for the EU to honour their right to the asylum process. On the MSF ship Ocean Viking alone, there are over 250 people waiting to disembark. Even as these ships are being held in a hostage situation, they are still carrying on their mission to save lives.

MSF rescue ship the Ocean Viking rescued over 80 people from a dinghy in the central Mediterranean. The boat was reached through collaboration with workers from Watch The Med / Alarmphone, who were in contact with those on board. Later in the day the Ocean Viking rescued another 85 people off an un-seaworthy dinghy. MSF reported that almost all of the people rescued in this incident were minors, with a majority of them between 13 and 15 years old.

A few hours later, the Ocean Viking rescued a group of 81 people from a third dinghy.

There are now 251 people on board the Ocean Viking waiting to disembark.

Alarmphone helped to coordinate a second rescue on Saturday, when the group was alerted to 39 people in distress on a wooden boat in the Maltese SAR zone. People on board the boat said it was taking on water and slowly sinking. Those on board were rescued by Proactiva Open Arms during the night.

The Open Arms carried out this operation despite already holding 120 rescued people on board for 8 days.

Psychologists and aid workers have interviewed some of those on board and the stories they share are horrifying. One volunteer reported that all the women she had interviewed described being raped in the Libyan detention centers. Others describe being forced into slavery, extorted, and tortured. These are the stories that we have been told by refugees coming from Libya for years. How much longer will they fall on deaf European ears?

As the rescue ships are scrambling to continue carrying out sea rescues, while also trying to negotiate the disembarkation of the hundreds on board, EU authorities are collaborating with Libya to prevent people from leaving. Alarmphone received two more distress calls, which did not end in rescues from NGO ships, but in the forced return to hellish conditions in Libya by the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG). This incident was one of at least four this week in which EU authorities coordinated the interception of dinghies with the Libyan Coast Guard. According to Alarmphone, approximately 300 people were returned in these four incidents. The group described how this weekend’s return was seemingly coordinated by EU aircraft:

Yesterday we were in contact with a boat that was intercepted to Libya.
The people were so afraid when they saw the Libyan authorities on the horizon coming for them. They begged us not to be returned to Libya. There were pregnant women on board who were sick. There was a heavily injured person on board. They wanted to move North and reach Europe, returning to Libya meant returning to their hell. Sadly, we could not help them.
They spotted European aircrafts which presumably orchestrated their interception. Our contact to the boat broke off after our last call yesterday afternoon. The 90 people, including 15 children and ten women, five of whom were pregnant, are now back in the torture camps supported by the EU.


“No fine or decree will stop us from saving lives”: Open Arms holds press conference in Lampedusa

For nine days, the Open Arms rescue ship has been stranded in the Strait of Sicily, waiting for permission to disembark. The 180 refugees on board are only the latest victims of the political games being played between Italy and the EU.

Malta has refused to allow all the people on board to disembark. However, yesterday a Maltese patrol ship was sent to evacuate approximately 40 people with urgent medical needs. When the patrol ship arrived, the refugees aboard the Open Arms wanted to board it, and the situation escalated, according to Riccardo Gatti, the chief of mission for Open Arms in Italy. Open Arms informed the patrol ship that it was unsafe to complete a partial evacuation of the ship because of the desperation of those trapped on board. At the press conference, Open Arms called the Maltese plan to evacuate only forty people unacceptable. “It generated serious safety issues on board the ship,” stated a coordinator for the group.

“European governments are subverting the right and international conventions for political and economic reasons. No decree, no code of conduct, no fine will stop us from protecting human life. We won’t leave any life adrift,” stated Oscar Camps, the head of Open Arms.

**Update: Reports indicate that a small number of those on board with urgent medical needs were disembarked tonight

Thirty six people, including two infants and a minor, were rescued off a dinghy in Tenerife, south of Punta de Rasca.



New Arrivals (numbers via Aegean Boat Report)

On Saturday a total of 8 boats arrived on the Aegean islands, carrying approximately 288 people.

On Sunday four boats arrived on the Aegean islands, carrying over 100 people (breakdown for fourth boat not available).

Tommy Olsen, the Norwegian volunteer behind ABR, is currently fundraising to sustain his work. Olsen not only provides accurate and reliable information on arrivals to the Aegean islands, he also coordinates rescues over phone. Consider supporting him here.

Over 20,000 people trapped on the Aegean islands

The number of people living in camps on the Aegean islands has risen to over 20,000, according to recently released data by the Greek Ministry of Citizen Protection. In April of this year, there were 14,000 refugees in the island camps. The last time the number of people in the camps was over this number was in October of 2018.

Vulnerable asylum applicants make legal complaint regarding conditions on Lesvos (via RefuComm)

The AIRE Centre, the Dutch Council for Refugees and ECRE have submitted a third-party intervention in the case of Al H. and others v. Greece.

The cases concern the situation of vulnerable applicants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Egypt, Eritrea and Ghana, who were restricted to the island of Lesvos by virtue of the EU-Turkey statement. The applicants complain that the living conditions in the Moria hotspot, as well as the detention of some of them in a “cage” for six days, violated Article 3 of the ECHR and that they lacked access to an effective remedy under Article 13 ECHR in this respect. Moreover, several applicants claim that the failure of the authorities to comply with legal deadlines for the registration of their asylum applications affected their reunification with family members in other European countries and, as a result, their right to respect for family life under Article 8 ECHR…

Lastly, it is also stated that systematic delays in asylum procedures are not in line with international and EU legal standards and worsen the harmful impact of already lengthy procedures and result in the prolonged separation of families.

Attack on women and children’s center on Lesvos

There was an attack on the women and children’s center outside the Moria camp on Saturday night, according to information posted online by volunteer
Salam Aldeen
. According to Aldeen, a large group of men came to the center armed with rocks and weapons, including knives. Aldeen stated that it took nearly forty minutes for police to respond to the scene while people tried to fight the attackers off. It is not clear who the attackers may have been, but Aldeen’s video suggests it may have been camp residents. In his video, you can see a number of women and children hiding inside the shelter, as well as rocks scattering the courtyard that he stated were thrown during the attacks. During the video you can hear rocks striking the concrete courtyard in two instances.

“Who’s going to be here tomorrow to protect us? Who is going to help us?” asked Aldeen.


An interview was published on Saturday with the Greek Minister for Citizens’ Protection Giorgos Koumoutsakos. Koumoustakos is largely responsible for migration policy in his role. His interview gave few specifics on the migration policies for the New Democracy government, but generally hinted at a harsher stance towards arriving refugees, and more deportations to Turkey. Koumoutsakos stated his goal of increased “border security”, which always means border violence. He also stated that the EU-Turkey deal “must perform much more effectively,” in terms of deporting refugees.

Unfortunately, the previous government had a low performance, when it comes to the issue of returns.

Refugees face eviction as new PM promises more police raids in the Exarchia area of Athens.

Refugees, and other living in squats in the anarchist district of Exarchia are under threat from police as the new right-wing government has launched a campaign to bring the area under police control. Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis promised voters that he would “pacify” the neighbourhood. Since he has taken office over 200 refugees have been evicted from housing in Exarchia by police raids, according to Greek anarchist outlets.

A reminder that the IOM has suspended their voluntary return programme:

Lifting Hands International is looking for volunteers to help with our educational and recreational programmes, which we run five days a week for the residents of a camp in Serres, a small town about one hour away from Thessaloniki.

We are looking for English & German teachers from September 1st onwards. TEFL/CELTA qualification preferred. You will be part of a great team that provides classes for Yazidi refugees of all ages.

For more information on the project please email our volunteer coordinator Candace:


The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights recently published their bi-annual report covering the first half of 2019. The report covers the asylum process in Serbia, with special reference to practices at the Belgrade airport. The report also details the lack of protections for vulnerable groups in the asylum procedure. You can see their full report [Serbo-Croatian] here.


Paramilitary groups reappear

Slovenia has 1370km of borders, 670km of which are shared with Croatia. The border has been reinforced with barbed wire, in spite of many arguments and protests against it. People still manage to enter Slovenia in an attempt to seek asylum in this EU member state, and also because it is the first country on their route that is a member of the Schengen area.

Threats, violence, abuse of power and the denial of basic rights have become a common practice in Slovenian border police stations. Collective expulsions to Croatia are happening daily with the knowledge and support of high ranking police and government officials. All this is done despite the high risk of further violence and theft committed by the police in Croatia, Slovenian activists have warned. Detailed information and evidence is listed in the report by Slovenian activists documenting the continuous unlawful police practices at the Croatian-Slovenian border.

Now, the media is reporting about militant anti-migrant patrols of Slovenian citizens lurking around the border area. However, our sources say that the whole story originates from a single family previously known to the public (and the police) as being problem-causers. Last year’s similar attempts ended up with 8 months of prison for one of the militia members. The police director and the Ministry have reportedly said that Slovenia is a secure country and there is no need for such ‘guards’, and there has reportedly been no criminal offence from their side (yet) in the border area.

A similar situation is occurring in Croatia, particularly in the mountain areas where people on the move are passing through. Multiple accounts of “people in uniforms” go to confirm that it’s the hunters and civilians who have been ‘patroling’ with guns in the area where people pass. There has been no intervention from the Croatian police, but you can hardly expect one when it is Croatian police themselves who are currently behind some of the most criminal actions taken against people on the move in the area.

Statement of asylum seeker’s initiative La Lutte de la Liberte

The employees of the security company Galekom have reportedly been bullying residents in a camp, and one resident in particular, the activists of the initiative reported. His name is Ibrahim and he had reported ill treatment by some of their fellow workers and since then they have been repeatedly coming to his room, frisking him, searching through his things, along with insults, kicks, refusing to give him his medicine and spraying pepper spray into his face.

He was therefore involved in arguments, and then fined and taken to hospital, then to the police station and back to the hospital and finally to the closed camp in Postojna where he now has no freedom of movement. Ibrahim was not given any documents or report on why he was detained. In the meantime, Ibrahim is now again in the ‘open’ centre in Vič, but the activists, among others, wrote:

“In closed camp in Postojna Ibrahim already tried to kill himself because of what happened to him, and now he is on hunger strike. He does not know why he was taken his freedom and he did not receive any documents. He said he needs protection and he would be a witness in court proceedings on what he had seen a month ago about the organized smuggling from the side of the security personnel of the Asylum camp Vič.”

They stressed that the situation is only an image of a wider set of problems that are part of the Slovenian asylum system. Among other things, many people are living for months in small rooms where 6 or 7 people sleep, after many have already been faced with police violence on the border and have been illegally deported to Bosnia and Herzegovina, having to seek protection again and again.

We are divided from the rest of society and are forced to live in inhuman conditions.

They made a public statement asking a number of questions to government officials in Bosnia:

Public questions for the Ministry of interior affairs:

- Why must we wait 9 months to get permission for work while this waiting period lasts only 2 months in Italy? Why do asylum seekers have no legal option to ensure their own living?

- Why are we not given access to public transportation which is the basis for integration?

- Why did Slovenia push back 3500 migrants to Croatia this year and 4500 migrants last year, despite clear evidence that there is a high chance of torture and theft? There have been reports regarding the violence and push backs also from Croatian police and with the continuation of these practices, Slovenia is involved in breaking the 3rd article of international Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms that prohibits torture.

- Even if there are clear evidence of disregarding the official procedures on the border and of illegal actions from the leading officials, why has there been no serious investigation?

- Why was Ibrahim transferred to detention center in Postojna? When was he given a decision for stay in the language he understands?

- How does the Ministry of the interior answer to the fact that the same people have been in charge of asylum home for 15 years and fail to see degrading practices that are happening?

We demand:

- The release of Ibrahim and the insurance of his protection!

- Investigation and replacement of security guards for which there is a suspicion of criminal activities in the area of Asylum home and for which there is a witness regarding their racist and violent behaviour towards asylum seekers!

- Investigation into those in charge regarding the suspicion of criminal activities and for allowing the bad conditions in Asylum home Vič to take place!

- Improvement of the living conditions of asylum seekers with access to public transportation, basic medical help and possibility of them making their own living with work!

- Minimizing the waiting period for of the asylum procedure!

- Stopping the push backs on the border and investigation of criminal and violent treatment of migrants on the area of border police stations and the investigation of the accountability of people in charge in police!

AYS is in solidarity and supports every action in order to stop and prevent further mistreatment, abuse of position, and violent behaviour in all centres and camps across the ‘Route’, run by international organisations and/or state institutions.


Attempted sabotage of aid vans in Calais

On Saturday afternoon, volunteers working with Utopia 56 in Calais found corks studded with nails along the road where they drive their vans. Fortunately, volunteers spotted them on the road and removed them before any tires were popped. The group stated that it was not entirely surprised by the action, as they have received at least two threats in the past three days.

Destabilize us? Never! We won’t give up on any of our efforts. Hate will not stop us.

The spiked corks as they were found on the road. Photo credit: Utopia56 Calais
Photo Credit: Utopia56 Calais

If you want to support Utopia 56 or apply to volunteer, you can here. has released a detailed booklet of information for people crossing the French-Italian border. The booklet lists rights and resources available in France in Italy. See it in full [English] here.


One person injured in right-wing terror attack against Oslo Mosque

A gunman injured at least one person in an attack on an Oslo mosque this Saturday. He was quickly overpowered by worshippers, and was arrested by Norwegian police. The suspect is reportedly a 26 year old white male, who has ties to right-wing extremism. Norwegian police are investigating the attack as terrorism.

Norwegian media reports that the injured man is not in critical condition. It is not clear from reports whether he was shot or otherwise injured in the melee.

Norwegian Immigration Board made false claims about torture following deportation, claim Norwegian asylum advocate and bishop

The Norwegian Immigration Board (UNE) has denied claims of torture by Christian people who were forcibly deported to Iran. According to Bishop Emeritus of the Norwegian Church Tor B. Jørgensen and Jon Ole Martinsen, a Senior Advisor for the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers, these false claims have influenced court decisions in cases for Iranian asylum seekers. According to them, the UNE has had information about the torture of Iranian deportees since 2014, but has ignored these reports.


Iraqis are losing their asylum residence permits as authorities re-examine cases

As Danish immigration authorities have taken a harsher stance towards asylum cases, a growing number of refugees are losing their asylum status, according to new data. While in 2015 and 2016, 53 people were deported from Denmark, in 2017 and 2018 there were over 600 people deported. The actual number of people who were forced to leave the country is likely higher, because these numbers do not always include the family members who are forced to leave with someone.

Immigration activist Lene Kjær shared the story of one Iraqi man who was recently told he would have to return to his country. The man had come to Denmark at age 7 and lived their for over 19 years. “The new Minister of Immigration in Denmark want more refugees to leave!” wrote Kjær. “He thinks it is not difficult to travel home. They can just jump on an airplane, he claims.”

One of the changes in Danish asylum policy that has led to this increase in deportations is the lack of consideration given to a refugee’s connection to the country. Whereas beforehand authorities considered the family connections and number of years a person had spent in the Denmark, they are now basing their decisions almost fully on their assessment of the conditions in a refugees home country. Danish authorities have recently shifted their security assessment of Somalia, leading to increased deportations to the country.

Families in Sjaelsmark deportation center sign public letter

50 of the 60 families currently detained in the Sjaelsmark deportation center have signed an open letter protesting their misrepresentation by a worker from Sjaelsmark. A staff member created a buzz in the media earlier this month by claiming that families said they were happier in Sjaelsmark and did not want to be moved to more child friendly facilities.

The open letter challenged this claim, stating that the families are mentally and physically sick of their confinement, which is no place for a family with children. The letter also questioned the workers’ attempt to speak on the families’ behalf.

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.

Apart from daily news in English, we also publish weekly summaries in Arabic and Persian. Find specials in both languages on our medium site.

If there’s anything you want to share or comment, contact us through Facebook, Twitter or write to:

Are You Syrious?

Daily news digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and refugees on the route, but also for journalists and other parties.

Are You Syrious?

Written by

Daily news digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and refugees on the route, but also for journalists and other parties.

Are You Syrious?

Daily news digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and refugees on the route, but also for journalists and other parties.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade