Lesvos in light of the EU-Turkey deal

For over a week, the new EU regulation has been enforced. Starting on Sunday, the 21st of March, all new arrivals are imprisoned in the former registration centre and HotSpot, Moria. They get a piece of paper explaining that they are legally arrested, their rights and that they have to wait for the next step. In addition, organizations such as UNHCR and Doctors without Borders, have withdrawn in resistance to this prison. Their actions, such as providing medical care, were also restricted. When we talk to the interned refugees through the fence, we hear that the most challenging aspect for them to cope with is the lack of information. They do not receive any and it seems as if the officers themselves do not know what will happen next or the refugees’ fates. Therefore, there are now 3000 refugees detained in Moria, unknowing and anxious. Especially we must give regard to the many imprisoned children- this is unacceptable.

According to what they tell us, food is provided by the NGOs allowed in but medical care is seriously lacking. Almost every boat that has landed has had its passengers brought to Moria; as we still have landings and deportation back to Turkey is not consistent, we will see the conditions in the prison deteriorate. Turkey and Greece have not yet completed the necessary legislative requirements to make legal deportations, at least from an EU perspective. In addition, according to legal texts, mass deportations are prohibited. Therefore, the implementation of this deal will certainly be difficult. Apart from this, the EU plans to asses everyone’s case for asylum within 48 hours. In the past, European countries often take months, if not years, to consider these applications. We must bring the fairness and thoroughness of their assessments into question. This is all disregarding the fact that their safety is not ensured in Turkey, both in the country and for fear of deportation to their home countries. For the many Kurds we have seen, talked to and helped the idea of being sent to Turkey must be terrifying with regard to the treatment by Turkey of these people. These problems ultimately make deportation difficult to implement. Yet, even if laws and fates were disregarded, we must say that we will never accept that people are locked up while in search of a better life, or simply in search of safety.

The principle of hope has played a large role in the arriving people these days. Some people tell us they knew the situation yet had no choice but to try their chances, hope that Europe had some level of acceptance for them. This is to show that simply because there is no chance, it does not mean there is not any hope. This hope still drives people to pay exuberant amounts and risk their lives countless times in order to seek asylum in Europe. The European policy has not been entirely successful in deterring people. On the other hand, some have told us they would have stayed in Turkey, not in the camps they will be deported to, but to work and lead a somewhat better life. As we hear this statement, it reveals much about the situation in Greece, a European Member State, and its European partners. The rights refugees have in Turkey, not even considered a safe country, compared to the EU.

Since NATO began patrolling in early February, we have since the arrivals decrease, but never halt. Even now, after the deal, there are boats every day. Perhaps the information has not spread everywhere, or the smugglers are taking more caution. No one can be sure and only in time we will see the full evolution of the situation.

Again we will say that Borderline-Lesvos will not leave. History has always shown that despite intermittent blockages, people will eventually be successful in finding a route to where they need to go. The EU-Turkey agreement is only valid for Greece and not for other EU countries, such as Italy and Bulgaria which can be accessible via the Mediterranean or Black Sea respectively. It seems that European governments see this as a realistic situation as Hungary is currently building a fence on its Eastern border with Romania.

For our work, we have decided to continue and maintain Proti Stassi. It has increasingly become the case that people ask us for information and we try to explain the situation as best as we know it, whilst also referring them to MSF who provide translators as well as UNHCR representatives. This has become difficult. We can no longer assure people that because they have endeavored to reach Europe that they are safe.