The ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe has brought out the best in people and, unfortunately, it has also brought out the worst. There are hundreds of thousands of dreadful stories of suffering, though only a few score actually make it to the mainstream press. In the second section, below, we publish one such story, courtesy of MSF. But there are also many stories of compassion and people putting the lives and well-being of others first. In Greece, for example, thousands of ordinary Greeks have been helping refugees any way they can – but not just via the usual NGOs, but by seeing the refugees as equals who deserve far more than just ‘hand-outs’. In the first section, below, we provide links to several mutual aid projects, set up in Athens and elsewhere to support and provide solidarity to refugees – the latest begun earlier this month at a squatted lyceum. There is also an update from No Border Kitchen (Lesvos). Finally, in an Appendix we include a summary of the legal rights of refugees and asylum seekers (by a migration lawyer).
A. Humanity at it’s best…
The photo at the head of this article is of a classroom of refugee children. The classroom is in a refugee solidarity centre recently opened by anarchists, who squatted a dis-used building – formerly the 5th Lyceum – in the centre of Athens. (More on this, hopefully, in coming days/weeks…)
- Greece: The self-organized refugee squat Orfanotrofio in Thessaloniki
- Anarchists kick out students and professors and turn University building into refugee camp
- Greece: Working class solidarity with refugees and migrants!
- Homelessness and refugee reception centres in Greece
LATEST: No Border Kitchen (NBK), Lesvos, under threat of police raid and eviction…
On the island of Lesvos, where the deportation machine is working at full speed, all the camps for refugees are cleared out and the registration center ‘moria’ has showed the true purpose and is now functioning as an deportation centre, NBK is still standing strong and operating at full speed.
The current situation is that we now host a couple of hundred refugees, who have been hunted down on the island by frontex and police and have no other place to go. The kitchen is up and running day and night to help anyone in need on food, shelter, medical aid and a (semi)safe place to rest, where refugees work side by side with people in solidarity on an equal level. We host, the refugees participate, and together we keep the camp up and daily life running.
Already the rumors were spreading that NBK will be evicted soon, since its an ‘ illegal’ camp and the last camp on the island were refugees are to be found, besides the unfortunate ones who have been arrested and moved to the Moria deportation center (which is still called a ‘ registration center’ by the officials). For days we have had police coming by in small numbers, sometimes checking passports of people in solidarity, sometimes searching people for drugs outside NBK, sometimes counting the numbers of people in the food-line and taking pictures.. Also they started arresting refugees on the road from NBK to the city of Mytilini, which is a huge problem since NBK as it’s on a dead-end street and there is only one way to walk.
The current situation is that the fascist mayor of Mytilini came by today (29-03-2016) with the demand that we will leave the beach we have squatted, since there is a contract signed that it will be transferred into a ‘water entertainment park’. We are all aware of the fact that this is clear bullshit, since the beach is clearly not big enough for this ‘water entertainment park’ and that this is just the most easiest way to get us evicted. The mayor informed us that within a couple of days there will be buses coming to NBK, for refugees to be transported to Karatepe refugee camp, where they will have freedom of movement and will not be detained. Karatepe is an former UNHCR camp to host refugees from Syria, but all the Syrians have been moved to mainland. UNHCR left the camp and it is now operated by the army and police (frontex) Before the refugees can go to Karatepe they will have to (re)register themselves in the Moria ‘registration center’, were it’s clear what will happen to them. Once they will walk in, the gates will close and they will be kept imprisoned, waiting for the transportation to detention centers on Greek mainland.
Also the mayor informed us that the buses to Moria will be escorted by riot police, to forcefully get every refugee in the bus who does not want to get in by themself. He invited ‘us’ (people in solidarity with refugees) to go to the Lesvos municipality building tomorrow (30-03-2016) at 12 o’ clock to tell him how many refugees we host in the camp, how many will get on the bus to Moria, and then expect us to pack in the kitchen and leave.
We will go to the municipality, but for different reasons. We will tell the mayor that the refugees have demands before they will go, and if their demands are not fulfilled, that they will not cooperate and will fight for there freedom, since they are trapped on this island and have nothing left to lose.
There demands are:
– If NBK will get the possibility to be relocated, if its truly only about the location being developed in the future.
-The refugees will leave from NBK to Moria only if they will get represented by a lawyer in personal or in small groups.
– They want translators.
– They will not be detained in Moria or Karatepe.
– They will have the right to directly apply for asylum once they have entered Moria ‘registration center’.
Also, we got the inside information that tomorrow morning (30-03-2016) the police will do a rate on NBK between the time of 5 and 9 in the morning, to look for drugs and evidence that we make false papers for refugees so that they can enter the ferries (only Syrian, Iraqi and Afghanistan nationalities are allowed to enter the ferries to mainland, the rest of the nationalities get arrested on the port if they try to enter).
It’s clear bullshit that both drugs or devices to produce fake papers will be found in NBK. We wish the police lots and lots of fun searching every corner and all the tents on Tsamakia beach to find this!!!
We will be waiting for them!!!
Unlike camps like ‘better days for moria’ and others WE WILL NOT advise refugees to hand themselves over to frontex/police at Moria. We will only provide them with information about the current situation, leaving the decision on what to do to to them, and support them in there decision.
FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT FOR ALL!!!
FOR A WORLD WITHOUT BORDERS!!!
FOR SOLIDARITY, MUTUAL AID AND RESPECT!!!
and for those who are still awaiting the hell of a journey from Turkey to Greece by sea maybe the most important; FERRIES NOT FRONTEX!!!
Here you can find the manifesto of NBK, to get an better understanding how it started and what our political views are:
NO BORDER KITCHEN LESBOS
We are a non-hierarchical/horizontal self-organized group of cooking activists from all over the world that share the aim of supporting people on their journey to Europe. No Border Kitchen [NBK] started in September 2015 on ‘the Balkan route’ with few activists. We cooked at different spots along the Balkan route, as an independent and self-organized collective, during the long summer of migration. But since the Balkan route turned into a governmental controlled ”Balkan-corridor” the repression towards people seeking refuge and those supporting them along the way grew. The EU government tries to divide people by letting some pass, some only register while leaving others totally stranded. People are stuck on the Greek islands, in the no-man’s lands of borders, in prisons and detention centers or being forced further into even riskier methods of travel, living a marginalized life in constant fear of arrest and deportation. Alongside the governments are trying with repressive mechanisms – ID-controls, registration procedures, accusations, and prisons – to control access of independent activists and finally destroy the solidarity structures. We stand against this controlling system and deny to be part of the inhuman policies.
That is when we decided to go to the island of Lesbos, Greece, which is a place of transit for the majority of the people overcoming the European border regime. Since 14th November we are cooking at Tsamakia beach, which is close to the port of Mytilene. It was squatted by the people seeking refuge as a place to shelter for a few nights and supported by the No Border Kitchen in terms of food and infrastructure. This is how NBK evolved into a self-organized camp where we support people seeking refuge, irrespective of their backgrounds and adapting to the current situations.
The NBK crew is an open structure: anyone is welcome to join as long as they agree to our basic anti- authoritarian positions and non-hierarchical form of organization. We as individuals of different backgrounds refer to the broad terms of Antifascism, Antiracist and Antisexism. We are a vegan kitchen, acknowledging the connection of exploitation and oppression of all living beings in the logic of capitalistic system. We create this space together and invite all people present to create it with us. We are individuals and affinity groups who use private donations to support each other. There is no organization behind us. Our resources are limited, but we try our best to support the different needs we have.
NBK is not only about providing food for the people seeking refuge, but crucially also about respecting each other as individuals. Each traveler has their own unique aspirations, desires and sets of circumstances that brought them to undertake their journey. In our self-organized camp all people regardless of gender, nation and religion are welcome. We hold regular general assemblies, translated into different languages, in which we explain the general idea of No Border Kitchen and how the space works, and also spread independent travel and border information to help people on their journeys.
We hope that through the relations formed here we can offer each other the mental strength to ride the storms and challenges of what is fast emerging as a distinctly brutal historical era, with dignity and courage. We believe in our capacity to resist the regime of devastation that is undermining precisely those aspects of our lives that we cherish the most: freedom to move, to share and to create relations of respect and curiosity.
NBK is a political project that rejects the border regime enforced by the governments of the European Union. We are in Lesbos because we believe that Fortress Europe and its borders must be destroyed. We are not here to assist the governments of Europe in management of ‘refugee flow’ and this is why we do not work officially together with non-governmental and humanitarian organizations and we are not officially registered as one with the authorities. We do cooperate on an informal level with some NGOs on the island when it comes to safety of boat arrivals or medical needs. Anyone may join in the activities of the No-Border-Kitchen, with the proviso that you do so as an individual, not as a representative of an NGO or other organization. We reject the ongoing mobilization of massive resources for the purpose of controlling and restricting the way in which people are seeking refuge, the increasing militarization of our societies, the erection of new walls, the continuation of war and the political and economic system that needs war in order to reproduce itself. We want to fight the distinctions the state and media make between “good” and “bad” migrants based on whether they are “refugees” or “economic migrants”, “innocent victims” or “criminals”.
We are not here as “volunteers” to fulfill a role of humanitarian charity, nor to “look after” someone in a paternalistic manner supposedly passive refugees. The people we meet at the camp and along the way are able to take care of themselves, and have their own structures of solidarity and mutual aid, and capacities to endure through the direst of circumstances which we can only learn from and be inspired by. We feel it is a gift to us to be able to share and create social space with them, hear their stories and learn about the experiences and perspectives of those whose structural oppression in this world is far greater than our own.
We are aware that many people of us that are in solidarity have a safe status and don ́t have the same experiences of racism and illegalization as the people we meet, nor do we know what it is like to be forced to live lives where you are constantly “playing with death” (the words of one Afghani teenager we met), but we believe that we share some common desires: freedom of movement for all and an end to the European border regime of death. Our struggle aims to fight the institutions who keep up the current order: the European states with their repression apparatus.
We, the No-Border-Kitchen-crew understand that what we are doing is a small attempt in the face of the enormity of destructive forces at work in the world today. But it is a real commitment of real individuals, it is one concrete effort among many, it is one piece of the puzzle of another possible world. We believe that all these efforts do make a difference and that they should be developed and expanded further.
Our broader desire is to build relationships of solidarity and form new collectivities in struggle. Therefore we also connect with the local activist structures, with whom we share common struggles and hopes and who we support. We believe that by establishing networks in our common struggle, we can fight powerfully as a united movement and rise together against fortress Europe.
United we stand, divided we fall.
FIGHT FORTRESS EUROPE! NO BORDER, NO NATION!
FOR THE FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT FOR EVERYBODY AND EVERYWHERE
B. An example of humanity at its worst…
Providing sanctuary is a custom that is traditionally offerd by the Church, though these days this is a practice that can be seen in innumerable guises. Ironically – or, rather, not so – it is anarchists, long vilified by mainstream media, who are adhering to the laws that apply to asylum-seekers (see Appendix) while the rule-makers of governments are the ones who are breaking those laws – as can be seen in this section…
Waleed, his pregnant wife and their two children left Iraq in February this year. It took them a month to reach the Greek island of Samos through Turkey, and after suffering a short yet traumatic stint of detention in Turkey, they are now in a makeshift detention center, waiting desperately for information on what their future holds.
“There is no mercy left on earth, look at us, look at my children!” 37-year-old Waleed says, standing with his wife, who is seven months pregnant, behind the fence separating them and hundreds of other asylum seekers from freedom. “We fled Mosul, we can not live there any more, we are running from the Islamic State, and look at where we end up.”
Mosul was overrun by the jihadist IS group in the summer of 2014, amid a brutal offensive that forced millions to flee their homes. Waleed and his family heard that hundreds of thousands of people were reaching Europe through Turkey, so they decided to try their luck at building a better future.
“My family and I were detained in Turkey for 12 days. We tried to protest in the prison but the prison guards beat us and fired tear gas at us. In the end we were released on March 20, and we arrived in Samos on the 21st,” he said. “I’m doing my best, but is this a way to treat human beings? They are supposed to protect us, not put us in a big cage like animals, without any information on when our case will be processed.”
On March 20, an EU-Turkey deal aimed at stemming the influx of asylum seekers into Europe came into force. Since then, Greek authorities have turned so-called hotspots that were supposed to act as registration centers into de facto detention centers.
“My wife is pregnant and she can’t remain a prisoner any longer in this dirty, crowded place, while all the NGOs are pulling out and leaving us in the hands of police,” Waleed said angrily, as his wife and children wept.
For many more stories like this (via MSF) see Voices from the road.
Appendix: refugee rights and European law
by Simon Cox*
Thousands of migrants are doing it for themselves. Leaving behind war, persecution and impoverished societies; looking for safety and a better life. If they can reach the border of the European Union (EU), its law gives them clear legal rights: to present their case for entry, to have a fair decision. If they express a fear of serious harm if sent away, they have the right to an asylum appeal before being refused admission or deported.
What about migrants who haven’t made it to the EU border?
European states block travel by citizens of the countries that produce refugee and social crises. Fear of fines under EU law means airlines, rail, coach, and ferry services won’t carry any Syrian, Afghan or Eritrean passport holder to the border without a visa. As a result migrants are forced to use irregular carriers or travel on foot.
Blocking migrants before they reach the EU is now the main strategy of anti-migrant politicians and border control officials. Europol’s measure of success is fewer migrants reaching the EU: regardless of refugee status (or lack thereof). The EU pressurizes and offers assistance to repressive and corrupt states to get them to block migration, through the Khartoum Process and direct relations with individual states like Niger.
Does the ECHR apply?
The European Convention on Human Rights applies within an EU state’s “jurisdiction”. In Hirsi v Italy, migrants in international waters were taken aboard an Italian-flagged ship. The Strasbourg court ruled that this entitled them to the right under Article 3 ECHR to seek protection from being disembarked to face torture. This prohibition on “push-backs” applies wherever a migrant is under “control” of EU state forces, e.g. where coast guards tow boats away from Greece to Turkey.
What about migrants outside the jurisdiction of an EU state?
EU bodies such as the Council, Commission, Frontex and Europol now take a leading role in co-ordinating and implementing migration policy. This blog post focusses on their actions and those of Member States within the EU institutional framework. In these situations, EU bodies and Member States are bound by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Charter includes the right to life (Article 2), to asylum (Article 18) and the prohibition on inhumane and degrading treatment (Article 4). The Court of Justice has invoked the Charter to protect the rights of migrants: in N.S. Article 4 barred the UK and Ireland from sending asylum seekers to Greece, because it had no effective asylum system.
The Charter may seriously constrain action by EU bodies beyond the borders directed at obstructing migration. Articles 4 and 18 may be breached by actions aimed at preventing people fleeing persecution or serious harm from reaching a safe country (in or outside of the EU), or which are likely to have that effect in practice. For example, funding or technical support to assist authorities of countries like Eritrea, Sudan or Niger to detain or block movement of migrants would raise serious questions. Sudanese border officials currently help Eritrean refugees to flee in return for a bribe, but EU action could mean political activists or religious refugees being forced back to Eritrea, where they would likely face imprisonment or torture.
The right to life is also engaged by EU plans to combat movement. Government strategies designed to reduce deaths may comply with fundamental rights law. But the law could be broken by strategies which encourage smugglers to switch from safer methods – reliable boats, safe harbours, day time movement – to more dangerous techniques. Croatia may clear minefields from where migrants would walk. It would surely be unlawful for them to lay new ones: the right to life is of more importance than countering the mischief of irregular migration.
Reducing trafficking (moving migrants to subject them to forced labour or worse) is also a legitimate aim. But even Europol accepts that only a small number of the migrants are trafficked: the vast majority want to reach Europe and will be safe if they can do so. States currently have no good evidence on the effect of anti-smuggling operations, including whether they reduce the incidence or risk of trafficking. On the contrary, generalized anti-smuggling operations may drive out small operators, leaving the field to organized crime traffickers with strong connections to corrupt officials.
If the EU ever did create extra-territorial asylum camps, EU law would apply, including the fundamental rights in the Charter.
In countries where the EU and its Member States do nothing, EU law does not apply. But where the EU uses its forces, money or know-how, those actions bring migrants rights far beyond the EU’s borders.
*Simon Cox is the migration lawyer for the Open Society Justice Initiative, and former barrister at Doughty Street Chambers.