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As Marius wrote before, we are very busy with planning, coordinating, setting up our workplace (which is hard skipping from one wifi café to the next^^) and strengthening our partnerships.
In the meantime, I, Juliane, have arrived in Mytilene as well so now, we are three persons on the project already!!! woohoo 🙂
We still have to find out a lot, like what can be our job in helping the indicted “smugglers” in court, is there a possibility to get into the closest detention center Moria (which awfully reminds me of the mine in Lord of the Rings) and if, how? And also other stuff like finding the best nagila place and setting up simple house chore tables to have a meal together once a day, having somebody doing reflection time and somebody volunteering to do the dishes 😉
While all these are very unstable tasks, we found something to do which gives us some sort of a working routine and lets us gather information at the same time: the port patrol (I love this word, it’s a great alliteration!).
We (try to) get up at 6 in the morning to observe the Frontex and coast guard boats coming in in the morning to see if they brought any refugees with them. Until today, they always had returned without any additional persons. This morning, they had collected 13 Syrian refugees though. We couldn’t really find out much because they didn’t really let us talk to them. We only found out the number and origin by nonverbal communication over the shoulder of this Frontex employee telling us to stop standing at the fence because it was embarrassing for the people.
Why this morning was still useful for us? We got in touch with the coast guard officers while asking them to let us talk to the migrants. We met this bureau officer explaining to us that we just needed this permission by the police and we could very easily enter the Moria detention center for chatting with the detainees for 10 hours – the very same place that not even BBC and Al Jazeera were allowed to enter. So we will try to get this “official permission” and at the same time talk to our partners about their experiences with the processes here.
Just a short update – we’ve been so busy planning that we completely forgot to write a blog post.
About a week after our delegation to Athens and Lesbos, we came together in Amsterdam with other CPTers and supporters. Nearly everyone shared how they had been involved in protests and vigils for the rights of refugees. Those of us who had been to Greece explained what we had seen. We held a public witness outside the detention center at Amsterdam airport.
As we shared, reflected and debated, it became clear to everyone that we needed to go back to Lesbos.
We decided on a three-month presence of a team of 2-3. Laura and Ramyar – part of the first and the second trips to Greece, respectively – offered to serve as coordinators. And then it all went quite quickly.
As I (Marius) am writing this, Ramyar is already in Athens, with Laura arriving tomorrow. They will spend a few days in Athens before continuing to Lesbos. They and others arriving over the coming weeks will accompany migrants and highlight migrant issues, in order to contribute to a change in EU immigration policies.
The project will explore meaningful ways to accompany migrants during their passage in Greece, including those who pass through the detention centers system and those caught in the judiciary system.
The project will strengthen the existing partnerships, build new relations, gain a deeper understanding of the situation and complexity of the crisis, and explore potential further CPT involvement.
During our trip to Lesvos we met Pashtun and her children in Pikpa. She was sad that her
husband was arrested in accusation of migrant boat facilitation, Nonetheless she was
hopeful and actively spread the word knowing that her husband was innocent.
On May 5, 2014 Pashtun’s husband appeared in court to be tried in accusation of being a
migrant boat facilitator. Afterwards we got the good news that the jury acquitted and released Ajmal.
Obviously this is one the greatest news our delegation recieved. However we know that there are people who are being accused of similar charges and they expect our solidarity.
– Pashtun, her husband and the children are happy after the trial session
Our delegation spent almost 4 days in Mitilini on the island of Lesbos and visited different places, activists and organizations.
In our final days in Lesbo and in Athens we were deeply impressed by the strength and the courage of the committed people, NGOs and Churches that keep fighting against racism, intolerance and prejudice inside the Greek society. They walk alongside migrants who are coming to Greece to find a better life and to escape from hell in their own countries.
At the broader level they are trying to change the crazy policies that are attempting to make Europe a fortress: pushing back all the migrants in open waters and building a 35 km long wall in Evros, north Eastern Greek territory confining with Turkey.
These policies and practices include:
- detention of migrants for up to 18 months in inadequate centres and in police station cells designed for temporary detention,
- arbitrary and discriminatory deprivation of liberty,
lack of legal and language assistance,
unaccompanied minors detained with adults,
insults and degrading treatments.
Our last two days in Athens was focused on what we observed and debriefing the delegation, as well more conversations with both Greek and non-Greek friends to in order to learn more about their struggle.
We learned more about the old and new versions of ID cards which are given to the migrants. The old version was valid for six months, with the possibility to be renewed and the new ones are valid for three months with the same option for renewal. The main difference between these two versions of IDs are the benefits for the holder of the card. With the old ID’s the holder could get work permit, register their marriage, get a driving license, purchase property, open a bank account and get debit cards. The new ID card does not have any of these benefits.
On the ferry coming back to Athens we found out that the police were accompanying a group of migrants on their way to Athens. In the early morning, just before anchoring, three of us went to talk with the police to see if they would let us to talk with the migrants. In the beginning they did not want let us, but after a few minutes of talking with them we got the permission to talk with the detained migrants. They were mostly people from Somalia and were detained for 10 days. They had a one month permission to be in the country but still they were accompanied by polices. As we got off from the ferry and were waiting for the buss to go to the tram station we saw the Police bus drive inside the ferry to load the detainees.
We have heard many stories of all kinds: sad, happy, interesting and impressive. We shared some with you already and we will try to share more with you.
Thursday morning our boat arrived to Lesbos. We rented a car and have been visiting people and places. From Lesbos, you can literally see Turkey on the other side of the straits.
In a future post, we’ll also tell you about the community of hospitality where we’re staying.
We drove up to the village of Kalloni (central Lesbos) to meet with Father Stratis, a Greek orthodox priest who has been helping refugees for 10 years. Refugees arrive to the village soaking wet and exhausted, often having walked many hours. Greek citizens face jail time if they pick up the migrants (similar to US citizens at the border with Mexico). If they know their way it is 10 hours from the beach to Kalloni. If they don’t know the way, it may take days. George described how their shoes are usually completely destroyed between the water and the walking. The balcony of Father Stratis’s church is filled with donations of clothes that he and 3 volunteers sort and process for handing out.
While they have sufficient resources right now for their ministry, their biggest struggle is with morale. The towns people often complain that they are helping refugees when they should be focused on helping Greeks who have been hurt by the economic crisis. The fascist Golden Dawn movement, while not strong on Lesbos generally, is toxically eating away at the minds of young people, making racism appear acceptable. George talked about how young people see the violence of the Golden Dawn against refugees as cool, like the violence of Hollywood movies.
We were deeply touched by the witness of Father Stratis and George.
Friday afternoon, we visited the memorial place in Thermi with some members of the Welcome to Europe Network. Several migrants lost their lives on the sea just trying to reach the nearest European border they could see from Turkey. Twenty-one Afghan migrants sank closeby just a few days before Christmas of 2013.
While paying our respects at the memorial, we were invited for coffee by a fisherman. He explained how he often gets calls from the coast guard to come save people. He finds them clinging to each other in the ocean. The coast guard will not rescue them themselves because they say their boats are too high and they can’t reach the people.
After pulling them out of the water he covers them with blankets from his own boat. One night he had to save 35 people. One baby drowned.
He said that stream of refugees won’t stop until the war stops. He remembers the Greek civil war 1946-49 and how bad it was when the Greek people were fighting each other.
The past few days, we’ve met with a number of different groups and organizations that are working for the rights of migrants and refugees. Some impressions.
– On Monday morning, we met with Nasim, an activist for the political and social rights of refugees here in Athens. He told us how the Greek government keeps migrants in detention centres for a long time in uncertain conditions deprived of very basic human rights. Their purpose is to send a message to immigrants (with and without documents) that they want them to leave.
He also told us how the police stations play a harsh role in by detaining some immigrants in the normal temporary detention rooms in local police stations up to one year. These local detention rooms are not supposed to keep anyone more than a couple of days. Nonetheless after transferring these immigrants to government detention centres they will be considered as new detainees and the period of time which they were imprisoned in police stations will not be counted.
– That afternoon we met with the Greek Council for Refugees, which offers legal and social support and does campaigns.
Amongst other things, GCR currently works on the issue of racist violence, some from police forces. Undocumented people are particularly vulnerable, as reporting the crime would put them in danger of more violence and detention.
We also learned about horrendous detention conditions. Unable to deport those who had been detained for the maximum 18 months, the government simply created a legal framework for extending the detention by another 18 months.
– Marianella from Praksis told us about the Greek nonviolent movement that was growing up from bottom of the society between 2010 and 2012 to oppose the economic crisis. It was really encouraging to hear that despite a massive polices raid it in August of 2011 the nonviolent movement is still alive and successful like the coal under the ash.
– We were shocked to know from Dora the volunteer from Greek Forum of Refugees that a lot of migrants die while trying to cross the northern land borders of Greece in order to reach other countries. Dora does street work amongst refugees. “We can have lots of conferences and programs,” she said, “but in the end the problem is still there and we need to be there.”
– Ekklesia Exarchia is a young church community in Exarchia, a part of Athens they call “the anarchist capital of Europe”.