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AYS Weekend Digest 31/10–01/11/2020–11 People Ask for UNHCR Protection on Lesvos

COVID-19 Spreading in Syrian Camps for Displaced People /// Partial Lockdown in Greece /// Croatian State Targets Partner of AYS Program Manager

Moria 2.0 Photo credit: Franziska Grillmeier

FEATURE — 11 People on the Move Ask for UNHCR Protection on Lesvos

A boat carrying eleven people landed near Tsilia on the island of Lesvos on Sunday and requested assistance from the UNHCR out of fear that they would be pushed back to Turkey.

Aegean Boat Report published “pictures, videos, and location data” taken by the people confirming their whereabouts and shared that information with port police as well. The people also requested that a representative from the UNHCR be present when they are handed over to authorities so that they could not just be sent back to sea and pushed back to Turkey, as has happened to numerous other groups that have landed on Greek soil and requested asylum.

The people were taken to Kara Tepe camp, where they will quarantine for two weeks. However, they should not have had to go through such an intense process just to avoid pushbacks that are actually illegal under international law. According to Mare Liberum, an estimated 8,000 people have been pushed back across the Aegean Sea since March, some of whom had already landed on Greek shores. Continuous pushbacks like this are a form of collective punishment and torture that is dehumanizing and causes physical and psychological trauma. Even for those who are able to successfully request asylum, they will never feel properly safe in Greece if their first moments in the country were spent having to call on a higher power — an international representative — to ensure their just treatment.


COVID-19 Spreading in Syria’s Northwestern Camps

The deadly virus is spreading through the overcrowded camps for displaced people, leaving many residents terrified. About 860 medical professionals have already gotten sick, so the capacity of medical facilities is even less than before. The spread of the disease through the crowded region where few people have access to basic needs such as running water would be deadly and disastrous.



Updates on Shipwreck off the Coast of Senegal

About 150 people are still missing at sea after Friday’s disastrous shipwreck off the coast of Saint Louis in Senegal. The overcrowded boat, carrying about 300 people, was bound for the Canary Islands but turned back when they ran out of supplies.

Sadly, more and more people are facing death at sea and harsh conditions on land as the Atlantic route becomes more traveled. More people are turning to this dangerous route as a result of the Spanish and Moroccan governments using the pandemic as an excuse for harassment. Some call this route “the most dangerous in the Mediterranean”. The figures are staggering — about 230 people that we know of lost their lives in shipwrecks between October 23rd and 29th. By the weekend, the death toll just along one route rose to 480. When people do reach the Canary Islands, the conditions they find are overcrowded. Child separation has officially been banned, but it should never have been allowed!

Rescue ships are fighting back against the attempts of European governments to scapegoat them and stop their work. In Germany, Sea-Eye filed a criminal charge against the AfD politician Georg Pazderski, who said that the crew of the Alan Kurdi were partially responsible for the terrorist attack in Nice. These are dangerous lies in an environment that is already hostile to people on the move and their allies — the organization experienced online harassment after the fact.

The Sea-Watch 4 is still under administrative blockade by the Italian authorities. They took to the internet to expose the absurd reasons behind the blockade — apparently, there are not enough toilets, and enforcing this is more important than helping people in distress at sea. Also ironic as many people on the move already in Italy do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities.


Heavy Storms and Earthquake Causing Bad Conditions on Chios

A bad storm hit Vial camp on the island of Chios, as you can see in the tweet below. Conditions are little better for people living outside of the camp. Due to Mitarakis’ decision earlier this year to kick people with recognized refugee status out of the camps, many on Chios are living in abandoned buildings. This is especially concerning as the recent earthquake has probably damaged many of these buildings and made them structurally unsound.

The Greek government has placed several regions on partial lockdown due to the spread of coronavirus. From Tuesday all of Greece will be under a midnight curfew, and in regions in Tier 2 lockdown, mostly in northern Greece and Attica, restaurants and places of entertainment will be closed.

Of course, people living in camps have been under continuous lockdown for months now, and these measures are making the conditions even harsher. For example, only 750 people can leave Moria 2.0 per day and nobody is allowed to leave on Sundays, even though vital services like pharmacies and lawyers are not present in the camp. People in camps in the red zones cannot leave their facilities at all.

A map of the two tiers of lockdowns in Greece, via Dr. Apostolos Veizis

Moria 2.0 residents also experienced another fire on Saturday, thankfully one that was quickly extinguished. It was probably caused by faulty electricity, something people have been warning about since the second camp was hastily built. In poor conditions like these, another disaster like the first Moria fire almost seems inevitable, causing unimaginable stress to residents.

Becky’s Bathhouse on Lesvos has been working for almost a month! The center provides a safe space for women and children living in Moria 2.0 to bathe — one of the only places to do so, as there are still not proper shower facilities in the camp — and to relax, play, and receive hygiene kits. They are doing immensely important work, all while following COVID-19 regulations to keep everyone safe.


State Targets Family of Are You Syrious Member

All of us at Are You Syrious are standing in solidarity with our program manager, Tajana Tadić, and her partner, also a volunteer at AYS.

In May, the Ministry of Interior suddenly decided to revoke Tadić’s partner’s refugee status, which was granted in 2018. They claimed that he is “a threat to national security.” Although nobody has been able to access his file, this is clearly tied to his and Tadić’s work with AYS as he has previously been harassed and interrogated in connection with her work.

The appeal hearing is on November 5th. Full solidarity with Tajana and her partner. This kind of retaliation for humanitarian work cannot stand!

The European Commission is planning a visit to Croatia to investigate its violation of human rights, but some observers are wondering if this is just an attempt to protect its image. The planned visit was announced at the Conference on the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, where the Danish Refugee Council also presented its investigations into violent pushbacks on the Croatian border.


Campagna Lesvos Calling and Friends Symbolically Cross Italian-Slovenian Border

This morning, together with companions from Trieste, we symbolically crossed the Italo Slovenian border, closed for a week, demonstrating the porosity of walls and barriers of Fortress Europe. It was also the opportunity to leave, in some strategic points , water and food for those who cross Carso.

In recent years many people travel through the karst territory as the ′′ last stop ′′ of the Balkan Rotta; arriving in Trieste means having repeatedly attempted the ′′ Game ′′ through the many borders crossed, between torture, pushbacks, violence and segregation.

After arriving in Italy, many people are rejected by the Italian or Slovenian police.

During the journey, approaching the city of Trieste, people are forced to get rid of backpacks and sleeping bags in order not to be intercepted by police.

Carso today represents the apotheosis of border violence and the failure of European migration policy.

From Campagna Lesvos Calling.


People in Distress Off the Coast of Lampedusa

We have not been able to find updates about these people in distress, hopefully we will have more news to share in tomorrow’s digest.


Human Rights Watch Travels to Canary Islands

Judith Sunderland, acting deputy director of the international organization, is traveling to the Spanish archipelago to inspect conditions for people on the move. The trip was announced after the deadly shipwreck off the coast of Senegal where the passengers were attempting to reach the Canary Islands. Many, including journalists, have heavily criticized the humanitarian conditions and lack of transparency on the islands.


Updates on the Channel

Despite worsening conditions, people are continuing to attempt the Channel crossing, leading to tragedies like the deadly wreck earlier this week. Both France and the UK have come under fire from people such as Amnesty International refugee rights director Steve Valdez-Symonds for their “failure to provide people with a dignified and safe means to seek asylum.”

While both French and British forces have the authority to rescue people in the Channel and signed a joint action plan to make coordination easier, clearly more needs to be done to prevent further tragedies.

Conditions are not helped by the rising xenophobia in the UK, egged on by dehumanizing coverage in many mainstream media outlets. Recently, BBC Four published an episode of “The Untold” that interviewed the founder of Little Boats, a far-right organization that harasses people on the move. The interviewer did not push back on the fascist ideas at all and promoted it as “a wedding DJ who takes a stand on little boats crossing the channel,” angering listeners who were concerned at the platforming of racism and the far right.

The interactive work “Have Your Passport Ready,” by Khaled and Mohammad Aljawad, aims to combat this and other fear-mongering misinformation floating around through a choose-your-own-adventure that takes viewers through the British immigration system. This deserves far more attention than fluff pieces about racists.

Photo credit: Li Sa, via Abdulazez Dukhan & Transbalkanska Solidarnost

Caption from Abdulazez Dukhan (thank you to Transbalkanska Solidarnost for sharing):

This is Artin, a 15-month-old baby who has yet to be found. his parents, brother and sister drowned after their boat capsized trying to cross the English channel couple of days ago. Refugees who are drowned are mostly shown by numbers rather than pictures. This picture is a memorial. A sad memorial. They died seeking a better life, crossing miles from Kurdistan, they would have been the happiest if they made it, may they rest in peace and may we have more mercy.


EU’s “New” Pact, Same Old Problems

Refugee Support Aegean published their analysis of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, which they said raised “serious concerns.” The new pact does not significantly change many aspects of the current system — RSA says, “The only innovation is the absence of ‘Dublin’ from the ‘Asylum and Migration Management Regulation.’” The New Pact also does not address border violence or monitoring and actually degrades the rights of asylum seekers more than existing systems.

As if to prove the weakness of any border violence monitoring mechanism systems the EU has, the European Commission called for a meeting of the Frontex Management Board after reports of the agency’s complicity in border pushbacks and 100 million euros spent on drones.

The Institute for Security Studies also published a critique of the new pact. The pact emphasizes returns of people on the move, which could actually jeopardize relations with the African Union and individual African states that are opposed to this policy, maintaining that “returns must be voluntary.” Not only is this aspect of the pact cruel towards people on the move, it is also strategically shaky.


Discrepancies Between Rights Guaranteed by UNHCR & Reality

Moria Corona Awareness Team shared a brochure from UNHCR talking about the rights of refugees. The document said that refugees have a right to “safe asylum” that goes beyond physical safety and includes freedom from torture, economic and social rights, access to medical care and so on. The Moria Corona Awareness Team pointed out the difference between the rights promised by the UNHCR and their own experiences.

This is what the UN says about us?

We ask ourselves: Why this does not seem true for us? Are we different from other refugees?

One day we fear flood, next day a fire, we are freezing in winter and suffering from heat in summer.


This article on the impact of migration policy in Niger’s north is well worth a read.

This article by the Norwegian Refugee Council talks about how a few countries in the world take on a disproportionate amount of the world’s refugees compared to their often much wealthier counterparts. For context, read this excellent article about the often-ignored history of refugees on the African continent, and what neglecting that history means for current policy. Additional historical context is also in this article about the history of refugees in Saudi Arabia.

This article talks about refugee lawyers in Egypt and raises important questions about who is “qualified” to practice law and how to build sustainable organizations.

Worth Attending: this webinar called “Toward Temporary Asylum in the Nordic Countries? Trends and Dilemmas” on November 18th.

Find daily updates and special reports on our Medium page.

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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.