On Tuesday 16 March, Aegean Refugee Support (RSA) held an online discussion entitled “EU-Turkey ‘Agreement’ – 5 years of shame: Through the eyes of those who experienced it”. Refugees and islanders talked about the effects of the deal on their lives and on local communities. The event was coordinated by journalist Fotini Lampridi.
Below you will find key points of the statements:
Efi Latsoudi, RSA’s social scientist and holder of the UNHCR Nansen Award in 2016 described how the rights such as access to asylum and the principle of non-refoulement have been eroded since the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal. Efi said: “For me it is very difficult to talk about the EU-Turkey ‘deal’ because when this happened in 2016 in March what we really believed back then is that this is huge violation of human rights and asylum law and that it is not going to last long…”. Efi also described the hostile and xenophobic climate on Lesvos against refugees and solidarians that culminated in a series of attacks last March and of her concerns about the dire conditions in the new camp in Mavrovouni.
“Even though Moria was burnt and does not exist we have a replication of Moria in Mavrovouni with horrible conditions. We have the promises of the government to create an invisible camp in the middle of nowhere in Lesvos …(The) local community is allowing now this kind of policies and we are going back to inhumane conditions and detention and no visibility of what is happening to the refugees on the island… (At) the same time, we have push-backs happening every day …..”
Giorgos Tyrikos-Ergas, a solidarian and author from Lesvos described how the impact of the ‘deal on Lesvos and how it affected solidarity and expressed his concerns about the cooperation of EU with Turkey because of its very poor human rights record. He said: ‘The EU-Turkey ‘deal’ was a key stone and (transformed) Lesvos to an open prison as well as other islands…. Living in an open prison is actually difficult for everyone…The pro-refugee climate on Lesvos (shifted) and followed the trend of demonization that has happened all over the world… Being a solidarian on Lesvos (means) being the target of a far-right agenda in the streets, in the media…We are afraid that Europe in collaboration with the Greek government wishes to keep this sense of prison.”
Ahmad Ebrahimi, a refugee from Afghanistan and a film maker described in an recorded statement the impact of the EU-Turkey deal upon the lives of thousands of refugees, the unwillingness of the authorities to take steps to provide proper accommodation for refugees and the challenges that recognized refugees like him experience during the pandemic. He said: “… It (is) not a big deal for a government to manage 100.000 (refugees), but I think they don’t care. And they also don’t think about the kids, about the people that later on will be part of this community, will be part of this country…”. When asked, how does an individual trapped in the camps and in the asylum process feel, Ahmad answered:” T he best way is to tell people to understand that kind of feeling is during the lockdown [due to Coronavirus] when they cannot go out when they cannot leave their house… But our feeling is much bigger [worser].”
Irini Papachristou, Samos resident, member of the Movement for Human Rights – Solidarity for Refugees spoke about the general context on Samos including soaring unemployment since the beginning of the financial crisis and the impact of the large October earthquake on the island. She also pointed to negative attitudes amongst locals that consider refugee flows as the route of degradation of tourism while at the same time underestimate the profit made by refugees shopping from local stores and renting houses. Irini described how the dire living conditions put refugee lives at risk in the severely overcrowded camp in Vathy and said that people have to live among rubbish and rats. She also spoke about the impact of the shameful EU-Turkey deal upon refugees and locals and the very reduced response by local to the calls of the Movement for help: “… (The refugees) find themselves caught up, stuck in a kind of limbo with an uncertain daily life and an even more uncertain future. They feel unwanted and that their lives are in constant danger. We might think that this situation doesn’t affect the locals of Samos but it actually does. Τhe psychological impact on the population is evident, whether they are solidary to the refugees and immigrants or they aren’t”.
Sofia Chatzifounda, Kos resident, member of the Kos anti-fascist movement, described the deterioration of living conditions of refugees on the island, the ending of accommodation programs resulting in recognized refugees being forced to seek shelter elsewhere without having a job, the detention of asylum-seekers and the extension of the camp. Sofia also referred to the support provided by the movement to refugees that were forced to leave their accommodation.
“It was difficult for (refugees) to survive five years ago. …Today it is ten times harder to do so since the pandemic had multiple impacts….Inside the camp, the number of people has radically reduced in the past couple of months, and we see inside the detention center, families with young children. Αlso people arriving from other islands are also kept there while their request for asylum is still examined. While we are having (…) a small number of people with huge issues to overcome daily that are constantly growing, there is an extension of the camp (going on) with very little information about it, and with the authorities declaring that this camp is going to be empty and they are keeping it just in case something happens”
Parwana Amiri, is a 17-year-old asylum-seeker from Afghanistan and an activist. She lives with her family in Greece while waiting for the outcome of their asylum claim. Parwana described life during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ritsona camp and the problems that exist because of the lack information provided to the residents and lack of hygiene boxes to protect themselves. Parwana raise the serious issue of over 800 refugee children living in the camp being deprived from access to education. She said: “For many, life of the refugees in the camps in mainland may seem that is better. Α camp is not a place that refugees can feel themselves safe, a camp is not place where that the local community can have a better understanding of the life of refugees, (and) is not a place where we can be able to integrate. (The) most important problem is that the children are excluded from the right to education, there are about, 830 students that are out of school, we got a lot of empty promises but we are still waiting to get…this chance. And you know, if you are not able to communicate with a local community then how can you have a better understanding (of) each other and how can they know about us…”
Karl Kopp PRO ASYL’s European Affairs Director emphasized the significant part of Europe in the misery caused as a result of the EU-Turkey “deal”. He said: “….everything that happens to the refugees on the islands and mainland take place in the name of Europe … and in the last five years there were many orders from Brussels to Berlin to keep the refugee deal with Erdogan alive at any cost. For the EU, for the Commission, the German government and others, it’s a game changer. … Success story for them is when refugees stay where they are outside Europe. Those who made it to the islands face a life in hell”. Karl Kopp highlighted that the hotspot approach is blueprint for the future for EU’s asylum and migration policy: “…This is the role model for a future asylum system which is not related to asylum anymore, it’s really a system to externalize responsibility, to shift responsibility to third countries like Turkey, which are not safe.
On the video below you can watch the video of the event: