In light of the refugee crisis of 2015, established non-governmental organisations and groups and many civil society actors, from Greece and abroad, stepped in to provide humanitarian assistance and other needed support, including rescue at sea.
However, especially on the islands the climate towards NGOs and volunteers helping refugees has started turning progressively from welcoming to hostile due to the chronic extreme pressure imposed on the local societies after the EU-Turkey “deal” and the establishment of the hotspots.
In March 2020, the Greek Government proceeded with adopting new rules on the registration and certification of Greek and foreign NGOs active in the area of asylum, migration and social inclusion as well as their members staff and volunteers. These regulations include stringent, disproportionate and arbitrary requirements for registration and certification, which create risks of violations of the rights of civil society. The changes come against the backdrop of policy efforts appearing to create an increasingly hostile environment for civil society in Greece.
The implementation of the toxic EU-Turkey deal in the past four years has resulted in endless misery for thousands of asylum-seekers and migrants trapped in the overcrowded and unsafe hotspots of the Eastern Aegean islands. It has also boosted xenophobic and racist reactions in local societies that were initially welcoming to the plight of refugees.
These reactions have ranged from a large scale racist pogrom against Afghan asylum-seekers protesting for their prolonged stay on Lesvos in 2018 to a spate of attacks against asylum-seekers, human rights workers and journalists and the arson of a building belonging to an NGO in March 2020. Hate and xenophobic speech used by public officials fuels these incidents.
The plans of authorities to establish new facilities in the form of closed controlled centres for new arrivals were faced with strong protests by the local population on the islands of Lesvos and Chios in February 2020 and were marred by police violence.
Refugee Support Aegean monitors and documents such incidents and is a member of the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN).