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Daily Digest 06/03/20 — MEP Joins Far-Right Vigilantes in Greece

ICC to Investigate War Crimes in Afghanistan///Serbian Paper References Battle Against Ottomans in Headline About People on the Move///German Mayors Ask to Accept Children From Refugee Camps//////Swedish Far-Right Politician Deported From Turkey

Far-right MEP Ioannis Lagos in Evros. Photo credits:

Feature: Golden Dawn MEP Among Fascist Vigilantes Attacking People in Greece

Ioannis Lagos, a longtime member of the far-right Golden Dawn party, was spotted at the Greek-Turkish border in Evros. He was photographed with members of local so-called “protection” groups and at least two police officers.

A far-right website published his activities, saying he was “actively participating in patrols organized by locals, to locate & turn over to the authorities the illegal immigrants-jihadists, that are crossing the borders by the thousands.” Clearly, he is an active participant in the violence being perpetrated against vulnerable people at the border and is making no effort to hide his presence.

This is not the first violent action that Lagos has participated in. In 2017, he was involved in an attack on an Athens school that planned to offer classes to children living in a nearby refugee camp. He and others stormed the school and punched teachers and parents just for daring to offer education to vulnerable children. Last year, he was found guilty of inciting violence that led to an attack on a community center in 2013. He is clearly a dangerous individual who should not be given the platform that a member of the European Parliament gets. It also shows a lot about the way violence against people on the move is unfortunately accepted by many in Greece since he shows no attempt to hide his actions.

If you are wondering what Lagos and his new buddies are up to, Greek journalists obtained video footage of one vigilante group’s actions in Evros. Most of these groups are farmers from the area who know the land well and use the powerful lights on their tractors to track movement. They work in tandem with the national guard and police to arrest people. The easy cooperation and overlap between Greek authorities and violent far-right militias should be worrying.

Far-right actors are moving their harassment of people on the move and their allies to the web as well as attacking them physically. Aegean Boat Report, which publishes crucial information on arrivals to Greece, has been spammed with over 100 negative reviews and comments on Facebook that are nearly identical. Their page was shared to several far-right Facebook groups and this was clearly a coordinated attack. This is part of a larger intimidation campaign taking place online and offline to scare off solidarity workers who could also stop information from getting to the outside world if they succeed in getting important pages like Aegean Boat Report taken down. These organizations need our support!

However, neo-Nazis and far-right vigilantes are not having a perfectly easy time. A group of five German and Austrian neo-Nazis who came to Lesvos were attacked by locals, sending one of them to the hospital. They allegedly came to “hunt refugees” and show solidarity with the Greek people, but for some reason posed as reporters looking for the “Greek perspective” on the issue of people on the move. When they were not receiving responses that satisfied them, they began provoking locals by shouting about the Kalavyrta massacre, when Nazis killed hundreds of Greek boys and men during the occupation. After that, they were punished and although police are allegedly searching for the attackers, local media is not sympathetic at all. “They should go as they came! There is no place for them on Lesvos!” Politikalesvos wrote. They have been identified as members of the “Identity Movement.” This post identifies them further and contains links explaining their violent pasts.

Another group of 10 German and Austrian “Identitarians” were deported by the Greek government after showing up at the Greek-Turkish border. This is not the first time the group has been involved in vigilanteism against people on the move — last year they were caught trying to attack people crossing on the sea route between Libya and Italy by boat.

Punishments are starting to trickle in for a select few who threatened people on the move and solidarity workers. On Lesvos, two locals who made threats against Efi Latsoudi and Refugee Support Aegean were given a three-month suspended prison sentence. While most of these far-right actors will go unpunished, it is still heartening to see that they are being met with resistance.

Evros was also the site of clashes at the border itself. Early Wednesday morning, the Greek police and military clashed with people on the move. Tear gas was fired from the Turkish side, probably by the Turkish army. There has also been information that the army is giving people scissors and pliers to cut through the border fence, which will lead to violent reactions from the Greek side.

In a different video filmed late Friday night and streamed on Facebook, more clashes are shown. The video is filmed from the Turkish side but shows shots coming from the Greek side.

People crossing at the Evros border have already been subject to torture in addition to tear gas and bullets. People are being stripped naked and robbed by the Greek police before being sent back to the Turkish border in the cold Balkan winter. There is clearly no point in taking people’s clothing besides pure humiliation and to break their morale.

In Serres, in the north of Greece, locals protested against government plans to move people to facilities near them in order to lessen overcrowding on the islands. They gathered outside the military camp Kalergis and lit fires on the ground outside (the news reported that they were set to keep warm. We wonder if reporters would be so kind in their interpretation if people on the move were the ones setting things on fire). Although other locations were proposed by local officials, the government made it clear that the eventual camp would be in Sintiki municipality and host around 500 people. People on Lesvos have already begun boarding ferries to be transported to the north.

Another proposal by the Greek government is to build camps on uninhabited islands, as announced by ministers in public statements. This proposal is eerily reminiscent of the concentration camps Australia has hosted for years.

During the short month of February, 63 people were deported from Greece to Turkey that we know of. A full report of the deportations can be found here.

Even though the news coming out of Greece can seem more overwhelming than usual, there are still ways you can stand in solidarity with people on the move.

If you are on Lesvos, there is a solidarity rally on Saturday, 7 March, at 11 am. More information is on the poster below (in Greek).

Source: NoBorders

If you are not on Lesvos, you can help by donating to the Chios People’s Warehouse, which was torched on Tuesday.


ICC Will Investigate War Crimes in Afghanistan

The court announced it will investigate crimes committed by the Taliban, the Afghan army, and the United States (the US is not a member of the ICC so it’s not clear how a potential ruling would be enforced). While the peace deal signed by the US and the Taliban a few days ago gave people hope that the decades-long conflict could end soon, it’s clear that there is still lots of damage to be undone before Afghanistan can be considered a safe and just country. Violence has also increased in the few days since the peace deal was signed.

Many European countries continued deportations to Afghanistan even before the first peace deals were signed and it is likely that they will increase now that there is more of a pretense to justify Afghanistan being a safe country. However, it is clear that the conflict is still not over and it is impossible to guarantee that returnees will be safe.


Serbian Daily References “Second Battle of Maritsa” In Headline About People On the Move

References to the battles between Ottomans and Serbs is a common ideological reference point for Serbian nationalists and was used frequently during the Bosnian Genocide.

Politika is not a fringe tabloid but a widely circulated daily newspaper, so the normalization of this kind of language is troubling to say the least.


German Mayors Repeat Plea to Accept Children Seeking Asylum

The mayors of seven German cities signed a plea asking the federal government to allow them to accept underage asylum seekers from camps in Greece. This plea comes after a vote two days ago where the Bundestag rejected a motion to accept thousands of children from camps in Greece, claiming that Germany would not do so until the rest of Europe agreed to accept people on the move as well. While all European countries should show solidarity, to use people’s lives as political leverage is despicable.

This is not the first time German mayors and local authorities have pleaded with the federal government to do the right thing. The mayors pointed out that there already exists a network of 130 Cities of Safe Havens that are ready and capable of accepting vulnerable children. This shows that there is a desire and ability to help others among the German people, but they are being stopped by the government.


Leiden Will Accept Children From Lesvos

Leiden city council announced that it will house at least 25 children currently stranded on Lesvos, following an appeal by Dutch NGO groups. This is the first city in the Netherlands to agree to do so. While the country of the Netherlands overall has declined to house people on the move, other cities such as Amsterdam, Nijmegen and Groningen might agree to do so soon.


Danish Minister of Defense Visits Naval Officers in FRONTEX Mission

After news broke yesterday of a Danish vessel refusing to follow orders and deport people to Turkey, reports trickled out that the official Danish FRONTEX mission has changed from search and rescue to observation. Minister Trine Bramsen paid a visit to Danish naval officer and gave a speech thanking them for their efforts.

“I would like to give you all a big and sincere thanks for your efforts down here. It is highly valued and important to our society at home in Denmark. In a democracy, protecting the external border is essential. Denmark is assisting Greece in withstanding a migrant and refugee pressure from Africa, Asia and the Middle East via Turkey. But first and foremost, Denmark is helping itself to keep down the number of asylum seekers on Danish soil.

It is clear that Denmark views its FRONTEX mission, whatever the exact details, as crucial to maintaining its strict border control by preserving Fortress Europe. Unfortunately, one refusal to deport people back to unsafe conditions does not characterize Danish immigration policy but is an isolated incident. Denmark’s asylum regime, from its inhumane reception centers to its frequent deportations to Afghanistan, has often been criticized as inhumane by international observers.


Swedish Far-Right Politician Deported From Turkey

Jimmy Akesson, the leader of the right-wing Sweden Democrats, went to the Greece-Turkey border to hand out flyers that read “Sweden is full.” However, he had no authorization from the Turkish government to do so, and the authorities chose to deport him. There is video footage of him being escorted through Istanbul airport.

Anders Ygeman, a Social Democrat and the minister of energy, commented “too bad Sweden is full when this happens.”


Coronavirus Makes Life Even Harder for People on the Move

In response to the coronavirus epidemic, governments are taking steps to limit the freedoms of people on the move even more, with the stated goal of stopping the spread of disease. However, it comes across as an opportunistic use of an epidemic to push xenophobic policies.

In Italy, the crews of Sea Watch 3 and Ocean Viking are being held in a 14-day quarantine in Sicily. This means that since 28 February, there have been no private search-and-rescue ships in the Mediterranean due to quarantine measures, which could cost thousands of lives. Italy has also refused returns under the Dublin referrals and cancelled humanitarian corridors that were supposed to rescue people from Niger.

The outbreak has been used by governments from Greece to Hungary to justify closing borders and the Hungarian government has outright blamed it on “illegal migration.” So far, there have been no ties between the spread of coronavirus and people on the move, rather, some of the first patients in Europe were wealthy people coming back from vacation.

While there is need for precautionary measures to stop this disease, it is clear that it is being used as a pretense by far-right governments to harm the most vulnerable among us.

And finally, an image that sums up Europe…

Artist: Miki & Duarte

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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.