Pagani: refugees and activists unite and fight

On Saturday, we reported about the action of prisoners in Pagani, getting out of their cells, demanding their release. Then, there were ongoing negotiations about the release of people, and conflicting numbers. Since the situation was so unclear, we took the article offline, in order to go and find, what was really happening.

The passion for freedom is stronger than any prison!

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We now have an account of a noborder activist who was present: 29th of August at Pagani detention centre: refugees organise hunger strike for release, no-border-activists occupy prison yard

In the afternoon on Saturday, 29th of August, the message reached the no-border-camp that the authorities are planning to release 450 prisoners – mostly families and minors – altogether until Tuesday, 1st of September. Shortly afterwards, there came the news that a group of male refugees had started a hunger strike, demanding that they should also be released and given their “white papers” allowing them to continue their travel to the Greek mainland.

A group of about 50 no-border-activists went to the Pagani detention centre to show their solidarity with the hunger strikers. More than 100 refugees altogether were just being released and entering buses to transport them to the open transit camp next to the Mitilini airport, saying happily good bye to the No-Border-activists. At the same time, some hunger strikers were inside the prison yard after they had managed to get out of the prison cells. Police officers and other people working at the Pagani detention centre were trying to make the hunger strikers go back into the prison cells, blackmailing them that otherwise, the release of women and children could not be continued and thus trying to play the refugees against each other. The hunger strikers finally went back into the prison building.

In this scenario, one Greek lawyer, who, according to local activists, was part of the delegation sent from the no-border-camp, played a role that should be seen highly critical: She tried to convince the hunger strikers to go back into their prison cells and, discussing with activists standing outside the gates, she justified the “necessity” to bring the refugees back into their cells and not to open up the doors and gates of the prison. Her “argument”: The bureaucratic procedure of release takes time, the refugees had no other choice than waiting for this procedure inside prison and opening up all doors and gates would create a dangerous, chaotic situation. This is, in fact, a paternalistic attitude according to which refugees are unable to decide what is good or bad for themselves and thus need to be “handled”, controlled and kept behind bars for their own “protection”, an attitude leading, after all, to collaboration with the institutions of repression.

After a while, one of the two gates to the Prison yard was opened up, because a truck from a company taking care of the toilets at Pagani had to drive in. Some of the activists took their chance and walked easily into the prison yard. The yard quickly filled up with people, without any serious attempt from the police – at this moment, there were still only few police men, no riot cops- to stop the activists. The refugees behind the prison bars were shouting and cheering and the activists went up to them to shake hands and talk with each other.

After the first moments of joy, discussions about what to do next came up. In fact, among the refugees behind the bars as well as among the activists outside, there were some very different opinions: While some were afraid that the occupation of the yard might spoil the ongoing release procedures and thus proposed to go out again, others found it very necessary to stay and to build up more pressure for the release of ALL prisoners at Pagani and for the closure of the detention centre. Again and again, refugees behind the bars shouted slogans like “freedom, freedom” and banged against the doors and windows. Others, in fact, fearing that their planned release might be at stake, tried to convince the activists to walk out again. A woman of “Medecins Sans Frontieres”, apparently working at the detention center, also tried to create confusion by saying that all the detainees would soon get released, but only if the activists stopped their action and left the prison yard. After all, the activists decided to sit down and stay inside the prison yard, but close to the gate. People at the no-border-camp and at the demonstration taking place at Mitilini were called to come for support.

After a short time, a message came that riot cops were approaching the Pagani detention centre. Aware that they were not many and thus not in a really strong position, the majority of the activists decided to leave and finally, all went out. Soon afterwards, a small group of riot cops came to the gate from inside the prison yard and pushed some of the activists further away from the gate, but then drew again to the background. When the police – in this case not the riot cops – tried to pull the gate close, some people tried to block this. The cops beat and kicked against some people with their hands and feet and finally, the gate was shut.

After a while, small groups of new supporter activists reached the place. Shortly after, a group of riot cops came running up the street, pushing people aside and beating some of them with their sticks. In the next moment, the riot cops started heavily beating up people and driving the whole group of activists away from the detention center, forcing them to run away towards the main road. Some people reacted by hurling stones to fight back the police. Several activists got injured by the beatings of the police. After all, many of the activists saw no use in staying longer and risking more confrontation with the police and decided to move away together. The action in Pagani ended with a demonstration to the city centre of Mitilini, with more and more people joining the demo on the way.

After all, in spite of some lack of strength and numbers of people, it was an important sign to occupy the prison yard of the Pagani detention center, to show direct solidarity with the refugees and their struggle for freedom and to make, once again, clear:

The Pagani detention center must be closed!
ALL – and not only some – of the refugees detained at Pagani must be immediately released!
The detention of refugees and migrants must be stopped!

About w2eu

This is the blog of the antiracist network Welcome to Europe. It was formerly known as lesvos09.antira.info.

 

The name Welcome to Europe expresses the discontent and anger we feel when looking at the fatal realities of the European external border: the long documented deaths and suffering have continued for years, and no end is in sight. We stand for a grassroots movement that embraces migration and wants to create a Europe of hospitality.

 

We maintain our focus on the European external border in Greece, but will not limit ourselves to that geographical area. The right of freely roaming the globe has to be fought for everywhere. Join us!

 

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Voices from the Inside of Pagani (2009)

Watch the video