Samos is one of the Greek island off the Turkish coast. At the closest point, you have the feeling you can easily touch the other side if you stretch your arm a little. Not surprisingly, many refugees and migrants attempt to cross the border to the European Union here with small boats.
In 2007, a new detention centre was opened on the hills above the island’s capitol Vathy. Before, migrants were detained right in the city centre, behind the main church and the city hall, in the first floor of an old, run-down building. All those that passed this jail said that the conditions were unimaginable and made many people sick. With funding from the European Union, the new detention centre is nothing like that. It consists of 14 buildings made from metal, most of them are used for the detainees while some are administrative buildings. The whole camp is surrounded by a double barb-wired fence, CCTV cameras as well as loudspeakers are everywhere: bidirectional communication to the advantage of the guards. The camp even has a children’s playground as well as a basketball court. Too bad that there are no basketballs available, so the court is mainly used in summer, when the capacity of the camp does not suffice and newly detained migrants have to sleep there, on the bare ground (like in 2009).
In October 2009, the Initial Reception Centre in Pagani on the island of Lesvos was officially closed, after a wave of revolts of the detained migrants and a worldwide scandalisation of the conditions inside the jail. Despite announcements of the government to build a new detention centre in Lesvos, Pagani is still the only detention infrastructure on the island. The former goods warehouse is used for the interim detention of newly arrived refugees and migrants. Unlike before, when hundreds of migrants where kept for months in closed cells, fewer people stay there for some days only until they are transferred to the reception centre on the closely located island Chios. However, since the closure of Pagani it has become clear that the old system of detention under horrible conditions cannot be continued and will be replaced by a more human rights compatible system of detention in line with the existing models in the European detention landscape.
Indicative of this change in policy, which also stems from the change of the Greek government in October 2009, is the statement of the then newly instated Deputy Citizens’ Protection Minister Spyros Vougias during his visit of Pagani in October 2009, shortly before the actual closing of the detention centre by his ministery. He promised “to upgrade infrastructure and curb bureaucracy so that the migrants are detained for shorter periods of time and with more dignity”.
In 2009, 150.000 irregular migrants were intercepted in Greece, which amounts for 75% of all interceptions in the EU. Even though in 2010, this number is likely to drop again, it is clear that the closure of other routes to Europe (West Africa to Spain, Libya to Italy/Malta) has made Greece the presently last remaining gateway to the EU, turning it into a embattled ground where the EU is intervening decisively.
There are three tested responses to irregular migration, and the operations of Frontex in Greece and the Aegean have elements of all of them. The first would be to integrate Turkey into the border regime (similar to the case of Libya). On an institutional level, Frontex is trying to connect with the Turkish coast guard and to involve them in joint maneuvers and also seeks a working agreement with the Turkish border authority. But also Greece and the EU are trying to improve their cooperation with Turkey on migration matters: While Greece and Turkey have a readmission agreement (which Greece would like to extend, since practically, its functioning is questionable), the EU has been negotiating such an agreement for many years with Turkey, albeit without success so far. Functional readmission agreements would force Turkey to readmit not only nationals, but all irregular migrants who can be proved to have entered Greece and the EU via Turkey. This would shift the responsibility for securing borders and inhibiting the movements of migration to Turkey.
M., a 17-year-old Palestinian youth was accused of “trafficking” in Samos. Four months ago, M. was arrested by the police, when he arrived in a boat together with another 55 people. The police claimed to have him identified as the driver of the boat. The accusation was based on a photo made from a helicopter that was stationed in Samos as part of the Frontex operation Poseidon. Despite being a minor, he was imprisoned, awaiting his trial. The Samos solidarity group heard about his case and organised a lawyer. He was in front of a court, but finally acquitted and set free.
Welcome To Europe made an interview with M. in June 2010, after the trial was over. His friend A. acted as a translator.
w2eu: Please tell us what happened.
M.: The police works in the sea, looking for people coming and they look with goggles. I was afraid because i was the youngest person in the boat, so I stayed near the engine. But I didn’t drive, because the big one drives, because he knows Samos, he knows the sea, he knows everything. In my country there is no sea. So I am absolutely no driver. The helicopter is coming with a big light and after that the police take me. I asked them why me? They say because the police saw me in the boat near the engine. But the photo is not very good because you can’t see in the sea if you drive or not, because the driver is clever, he stays behind and he puts his hand in the engine and he drives from far away.
From Samos, the Movement for the Human Rights Solidarity to the Refugees sends a press release, denouncing the pending deportation of 50 refugees from the island. In a presse release, they write:
For one more time on thursday 1/7/2010 50 refugees where transported from the detention center of samos to be deported. They where transferred to the center of Aspropyrgos (detention centre near Athens) without having been informed that they will be transferred or the reasons without lawyers and without translators. For one more time the police, the coast guard and Frontex coordinate their actions and transferred illegaly also a minor of 15 years with health problems.
Who gives the permission to frontex to be inside the detention centers and to collect information from the refugees and decides about their nationalities and their deportation?
In the same way like the Greek Government accepts that the European Union and the International money fonds take decisions against the working greeks in the same way the greek Goverment has let the decisions about the future of the refugees to Frontex forgetting everything about constitution and conventions on human rights.
We are denouncing this practices and unite our voices with all humans beings who act against this violations of human rights.
We are in solidarity with this people who where forced to abandon their countries and flee because of wars, poverty and desertation that causes the imperialist atrocity.
Those who produce refugees, face the refugees as criminals, without rights, without voice, without future.
Solidarity is our weapon.
Movement for the Human Rights Solidarity to the Refugees – Samos (4th of June)
On Monday, 12 of April the refugees detained in Samos Detention Center came on a hunger strike in which participate the great majority (126 hunger strikers in 150 detainees). The reason was the two massive transportations happened in 21 of March and 9 of April (60 refugees transferred in the northern greek borders each time). They react because they are afraid that they will be the next that will be transferred in the northern greek borders in order to be deported, despite the fact that the massive deportations are illegal and consist clear violation of human rights.
The most of them are Palestinians and they gave us a text in which they announce that it’s better for them to commit suicide than to be deported. They insist on their right to be released with formal papers and tickets and not to go through any kind of violence. According to their denounce, they have been violated to sign papers in an unknown language without any translator. Also, no one has informed them about their rights. Furthermore, the police change their nationalities in order to deport them, and because they cannot proof their nationalities and their problems, so there is no any concrete asylum procedure because in reality.
They also denounce us that on Tuesday, 13 of April in the morning there happened a violent incident. The police-guards beat a refugee and then they send him in the Samos’ hospital.
The Group for the Human Rights – Solidarity to Refugees tried from the beginning to go near the refugees, to discuss their problems and to hear their demands. On Tuesday, 13 of April ten members of our group went in the detention center to have a contact with the refugees. Suddenly the police commander denied our entrance because “there is no need any more” according to their words. We stayed outside the camp trying to communicate with the refugees from outside the fence. The police terrorized us, trying to keep us away. The police accused us that the revolt is our blame and they asked our identities.
We are sure that both the increased deportations and the denial of the access to the group is the result of the tough migration policy and of the permanent and improved role of FRONTEX on the island. We know that FRONTEX works 24 hours per day in the airport.
Solidarity to the refugees’ struggle. We demand the acceptance of their demands. Deport FRONTEX!
14 April 2010
Group for the Human Rights-Solidarity to Refugees
On April 12, 2010, 126 migrants detained in the samos detention camp started a collective hunger strike. Their demands are
Freedom, immediate release with the “white paper” (allowing them to travel within Greece for thirty days)
An end to the transfers to detention centres close to the greek-turkish land border in the north, where numerous illegal deportation to Turkey are taking place. Such transfers happen between two and three times a month in Samos, the last one happened on April 9, when 40 migrants were taken.
Transparency about the work of so-called translators in the camp. As it turns out, these often are officiers employed by Frontex, who offer their translation services, but abuse the trust of the refugees and use the access to the refugees to determine their identity and prepare their deportation. There is a particular problem with the Frontex officers who in the process of identification often change the country of origin of the migrants on paper.
In the last days, as many as 14 Frontex officers were in the detention centre. There is also talk about migrants being beaten up, some cell phones were taken, while the phones in the camp also don’t work, making it hard to communicate with the hunger strikers. No laywers seem to be present at the time.
While everybody is waiting for the new asylum law announced to be passed around May 2010, the new season has begun! Almost every day refugees arrive on the island: 11 today (within them a pregnant woman/ 9th month!), 14 yesterday, 30 the day before, depending always on the weather conditions. The new screening center in Outza is under construction despite protests by neighbouring businesses. New arriving refugees are currently being brought to Pagani for one or two days, issued a white paper and released to go to Athens. Probably some are still transferred to Chios island. The doors of Pagani are widely open. No police presence, only food is being brought there. The facilities of the detention center have not changed at all. There is no stuff working there.
At the same time Frontex is preparing the official opening of their operational office in Piraeus. Officers are already working in the detention centers of Samos and Chios, with additional presence on other islands such as Kos and Rhodes. Within the next two months German officers are expected to arrive in Greece with two helicopters strengthening the Frontex force. Also the Greek coast guard of Mytilini expects enforcement and additional stuff for the coming summer.
This came from people still in Mytilini (slightly edited):
92 new minors arrived in Mitilini yesterday and where brought to Pagani. That means 140 minors and around 500 people all together are detained in Pagani at this stage.
Two days ago all refugees from one cell refused to return into the cell. But after a while they where forced to do so. Unfortunately there where not more infos about it and noone knew while this happend.
People say that every now and then the prisoners scream FREEDOM and AZADI.
A newspaper is being prepared about the noborder and the other actions around it and more local news to be distributed widely and to be the beginning for an open discussion
in town and further campaigning.
The Frontex boat is still not around. [It might actually have left]
Local people told us that many did not know or did not hear about the actions and they asked for more information. The interest is big to know what they missed.
And the sky is grey since two days.
In the meanwhile, we finally got around to include a form for signing our Dublin-II call. Since the whole idea with signing through the comment function didn’t work so well, we adjusted and now invite you again to support the cause.
There is actually movement on the Dublin-II issue, at least in Germany. The highest court i.e. the constitutional court, ruled yesterday that they would decide on a case brought forward by an Iraqi refugee in Germany. Since he had been registered in Greece before, the german authorities wanted to deport him to Greece so that he could seek asylum there, in accordance with Dublin II. This deportation was now stopped by the constitutional court, and they will have a hearing on the issue.
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!