This is an example of the ‘material culture’ of migration. Almost every refugee in Piraeus has a similar pouch. Carefully constructed and waterproof this pouch contains the little money that people have, but most of all the valuable ‘papers’: passport and –upon arrival- the papers provided by the Greek authorities (all of them in Greek). All the refugees have learnt to use the Greek term ‘chartia’ (papers) even when they speak in their own languages. The pouch in this photo belongs to Ahmed (pseudonym), a twenty-five year old man who has come to Greece through Turkey after one failed attempt. Ahmed has survived a dramatic shipwreck in the coast of Turkey that has cost the lives of 42 people including several children. He has explained to us that once the ‘fare’ has been paid, smugglers on the Turkish coast are extremely reluctant to cancel the trip, even if the weather clearly does not permit the journey. Refugees are sometimes forced into the boats at gunpoint, sometimes with inadequate life-jackets. Ahmed finally survived and was rescued by Turkish coast-guars after more than 11 hours in the sea. He embarked on the same journey less than two months later and made it safe to Lesvos this time. Wasn’t he scared after his first experience? He was, but, in his own words “There is no turning back. I want to finish my studies, to work, to have a proper life”.
Following the closure of the humanitarian corridor to North Europe, more than 45.000 refugees remained in Greece. The islands are being evacuated as a matter of priority and more and more refugees are forced to live in makeshift camps in the port of Piraeus and other places around Athens like Elliniko, while a large number remain at the border with FYROM, in the area of Eidomeni, in the hope that the borders will re-open.
The makeshift camps or else ‘unofficial hospitality structures’ (domes philoksenias) depend mostly on the work of local volunteers and NGOs. More than 4.500 persons are forced to live in Piraeus, in small tents that do not properly protect them from the sun, the wind and the rain since the larger tents are fewer and the indoors spaces full.
This is a typical registration paper obtained by the Greek authorities upon arrival in one of the islands (in this case Lesbos). It is a temporary permit stating that the bearer is allowed to remain on Greek soil for six months on the principle of non-refoulement. Children are registered on the same document. Once registered, this paper is the only official document the bearer has within Greece and it is written entirely in Greek. The refugees cannot -of course- understand what is really written in this document which will be subsequently stamped multiple times (usually on the back page) to indicate that the bearer is entitled to transportation within Greece, relocation procedures, access to food, temporary shelter and provision of health services. If lost, stolen or misplaced, the temporary permit is irreplaceable.
The Greek Ombudsman for children met today with NGOs and local authorities in Lesvos, in order to discuss the issue of unaccompanied minors. The meeting focused on:
1) Unwillingness of minors to report their age and status in Greece since they consider it a transit country
2) Deficiencies in identifying and recording unaccompanied minors especially during busy arrival periods
3) Deficiencies of reception structures, under-resourced volunteers and local authorities. Reception structures remain exceptionally underdeveloped in Greece. Reception centres are seriously overpopulated and police presence is traumatic for children.
4) Deficiencies in the care system and absence of sensible legal context.
The conditions under which children migrants – even those accompanied by their families- make the journey from the shores of Turkey to the Greek-FYROM borders are particularly worrying. They are the most vulnerable persons at sea and the most likely victims in every single incident. Individuals who are implicated in rescue operations repeatedly report facing dilemmas over ‘who to save, children or their parents’, knowing that in both cases they have failed unless both children and their carers are rescued. Children are vulnerable in multiple ways since not only they are the ones most likely to die at sea, but also the ones most likely to suffer severely should their parents die.
Victoria square is in central Athens and is connected by Metro to the port of Piraeus where refugees arrive daily after they have been screened and recorded in the various Aegean islands. The square is a resting, meeting and travel connection point for Afghan refugee families who wish to reach Northern Europe. Extended families of often twenty people, of three generations camp in the square during the day. Most of them are waiting for money transfers from relatives back home and around the world in order to continue their journeys. When money does not arrive, they spend the night in one of the makeshift camps in Athens and return back to the square the next day.
Zarmina is eighteen years old. She is sitting on a blanket on the pavement holding her three month old baby girl, her first child. She is travelling with her husband, her sister in law and her five nieces and nephews. The baby girl is suffering from severe nappy-rash. Zarmina is scared because her baby is constantly crying and seems unwilling to eat.
Chargul is travelling with his wife, his mother and their six children. The youngest is two years old. He is telling be about his journey from the area of Kunduz, through to Iran, Turkey and then Greece. Passing through Iran is apparently the toughest part of the journey. He does not know where exactly he arrived in Greece. He is telling me about the Taliban and how he had to flee from Kunduz. He is showing me his sons and daughters. He would like them to go to school, to learn things, to be educated. Like most other Afghans I have interviewed in the square he wants to go to Germany.
Most refugees in the square have a final destination in mind. Most of the times, this destination is chosen on the basis of relatives and acquaintances who are already established in various European cities. All of them report having one or more relatives killed in Afghanistan where terror and violence continue to form the context of everyday life.
Changiz is eighteen years old – or so he says. He is travelling with is younger brother. Their family sent them away after loosing two more boys to the Taliban. He is telling me how the militia demand from local people money and young men to join their forces. Changiz and his brother are definitely a family but they do not receive as much attention as women and children. Very young men are often the most unprotected and vulnerable transitory subjects.
The conditions of hygiene in the square are despicable. Humanitarian NGOs offer a space to take a bath and lunch. Although crucial, these relief measures are hardly enough. Local people keep bringing clothes, food, biscuits and sweets for the children but the waiters and owners of the local cafes forbid the refugees from using their facilities and constantly complain to the police about the ‘damage to their businesses’.
Journalists come everyday in the square. They take photos and short interviews. Afghans –who have arrived several years ago to Greece and have established shops around the square- sell bus tickets and facilitate money transfers (with a fee). Around three o’clock every afternoon, those who managed to buy a ticket walk to Acharnon street where the buses pick them up for a long, over eight hours journey to the border. On their way to the bus Farshid and his wife enter the pharamacy across the street from the square. Their three year old son –one of four children- is feverish. The pharmacist hands them out an ibuprophen-based syrup for children. She is trying to persuade them to take the child to a doctor before they leave Athens. “We cannot” says Farshid. “We have been hearing that the borders might close. We cannot risk it. We have to board the bus today. While we still can”.
13 refugees have drowned outside Farmakonisi, a small island in the Aegean. Among them seven children. The Greek coastal guards managed to rescue fifteen while at least one person is currently missing. Thus far more than 3.500 have lost their lives trying to cross from Turkey to Greece, most of them young children.
By George Tyrikos-Ergas
A new shipwreck this Wednesday near Eftalou claimed the lives of two more refugees, a young girl and a man. Local media point out that deaths of this kind even during Christmas holidays are no longer “news” for mainstream national media as they no longer “shock the public opinion”. It seems that no side, the Greek or Turkish governments or the E.U. are yet truly capable to provide safe passage to refugees. Refugee arrivals in the north of Lesvos have decreased dramatically whereas arrivals in the southeast, near the town of Mytilene have reached a peak up to 1500 people in one day. The refugee crisis, as it has been proven, knows no winter and unfortunately is more aggressive than hoped. Even after a relative decrease in arrival numbers, even after the G20 meeting and the E.U- Turkey agreement, the refugee crisis is as ardent as ever. A these lines are written new top-class meetings concerning the refugee crisis between prime ministers ane E.U. authorities are about to begin in Brussels.
The European Commission recommended the establishment of a scheme for humanitarian admission from Turkey. The new scheme is conceived to “ensure an orderly, managed, safe and dignified arrival of such persons in place of dangerous and irregular migration”. The scheme is also -and perhaps primarily- directed towards preventing secondary movements.
12. With the objective of preventing secondary movements, candidates for humanitarian admission should be informed of their rights and obligations, under the humanitarian admission scheme as well as under relevant Union and national asylum legislation, and be provided pre-departure cultural-orientation support, prior to their admission to the territory of the participating State, in particular of the consequences of onward movement within participating States and of the fact that they are only entitled to the rights attached to protection in the State of admission.
13. Admitted persons who enter the territory of a participating State other than the State of admission without authorisation, either pending the completion of the formal international protection procedure or after granting of international protection, should be sent back to the State of admission, pursuant to the rules laid down in Regulation (EU) No 604/2013 of the Europeans Parliament and of the Council and Directive 2008/115/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council.
Italy and Greece are the first two Members States where the Hotspot approach is currently being implemented. Other Member States can also benefit from the Hotspot approach upon request. In Italy, the regional headquarters in Catania (Sicily) is coordinating the work in four ports which have been identified as Hotspots, namely Pozzallo, Porto Empedocle and Trapani in Sicily and Lampedusa. In each of these Hotspots, first reception facilities are in place with a capacity for receiving approximately 1 500 persons1 for the purpose of identification, registration and fingerprinting. Two more reception facilities will be ready in Augusta and Taranto2 by the end of 2015. The implementation of the Hotspot approach in Greece is being modelled on the work done so far in Italy. A headquarter Hotspot in Piraeus will be established where asylum seekers will be received from different arrival points.
Operational support provided in Hotspots will include:
Registration and Screening
Following screening persons are distinguished between:
a) Persons who wish to apply for asylum (Actors: national authorities with the support of EASO)
b) Persons who can be returned immediately (Actors: national competent authority with the support of Frontex)
c) Persons with regard to whom the situation may remain doubtful (Actor: national authorities).
Debriefing of migrants (supported by Frontex)
Stepping up investigations, information and intelligence exchange
Coordination of the return of migrants that do not have the right to stay in the EU legally
Interpretation to facilitate the work of the experts in relation to all the above
Our Comment: The Hotspot approach creates ‘states of exception’ within European states and fosters a culture of exclusion, detention and deportability. Documents make a reference to the protection of minors and other vulnerable categories but there is no specific plan in place as to how protective measures will be implemented in practice.
Volunteers, refugees, local authorities : everyone in Lesvos feels that the recent devastating events in Paris will have a massive negative effect on the refugee crisis not only in Europe but globally. In Skalia Sykamias, this Sunday only five boats arrived from the Turkish shore. Volunteers narrate a story to be confirmed : there are no more boats for the smugglers to use. They show us the motors of the boats that have already arrived. First, well known trademarks were used like “Yamaha” but now the brands have changed. Smugglers use cheaper motors even more defective, even more dangerous. “Things had just started to get organized” said A., a volunteer that has been in Skala Sykamias since the beginning of the refugee crisis in May. “Three main help-points one being run totally by volunteers, by crowdfundind and support from individuals, and two by the UNCHR and other NGOs, at least were something. Now, nobody knows what comes next. Paris was the worst thing that could happen. And somehow, everyone expected something like this”. Another volunteer points towards Turkey : “There is a G20 going on right now”. Everyone feels that the fate of thousands of refugees is being decided during this meeting.