The following is a shortened version of the full letter written by Rory O’Keeffe of Koraki. Its purpose is to inform the EU’s Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, about some of the concerning developments in Greece since she last visited the country, a little more than a year ago. Read along to get informed about the most important points.
Madam Commissioner, Ms Johansson,
We are very pleased to welcome you back to Greece, but we must inform you, there have been some extremely worrying developments while you have been away…
Madam Commissioner, from 1 March 2020 (which we know was a couple of weeks before your visit) to 21 March 2021, 4,554 men, women and children were registered as new arrivals at refugee camps on the Greek islands.
But in the same period, the Greek government has expelled 10,898 people from its waters and from its land territory, in total disregard for international law.
This has included hundreds of assaults by uniformed Greek operatives on asylum seekers, a case in which two boys were lied to by Greek officers that they were being taken for COVID tests and instead forced onto a Greek coastguard vessel and then set adrift on the open sea in an engineless inflatable tent, and a case this month in which at least three – almost certainly four – people drowned having been set adrift while handcuffed with plastic hand restraints.
Madam Commissioner, as you know, all pushbacks and all other efforts to prevent people from entering the proper legal process and apply for asylum are illegal. We are now at a point where people are being killed for trying.
We must call upon you, as a representative of the European Union, to support international law, and to end this disgusting practice.
- The new Moria, and the other island camps
Moria camp was the shame of the EU. Enormously, dangerously, overcrowded, sporadic electricity and hot water. Atrocious food. Completely at odds with the aims and projection of the EU as the world’s richest political bloc, a modern champion of human rights, human decency, and international law.
The camp which replaced it – following a €750,000 donation from the EU for the purpose – is worse.
It is a collection of tents on an exposed, weather-beaten stretch of the coast. There was no electricity at all for almost four months, and no showers for almost as long. People – men, women and children – were forced to choose: was in buckets, or do not wash at all.
As if that weren’t enough, the camp has flooded four times, destroying people’s few remaining possessions, and has been found to be so contaminated that people risk lead poisoning simply from being there.
Meanwhile, on Samos, Vathy camp is almost five times over its safe capacity: 3,179 people crammed into a space which safely can hold only 648. And VIAL, at Chios, has 1,344 people where it is only safe for 1,014 to stay.
We must request, Madame Commissioner, that you act to end this dangerous, inhumane, illegal and immoral situation.
One suggested solution is for ‘new camps’ to be built on five Aegean islands – Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos.
We know you signed off on these within weeks of promising the EU would not fund closed camps. But Madam Commissioner, these will be closed camps. And because the period of time between a person entering the asylum process to a decision being made on their case can be five years, that means people will be effectively imprisoned for five years in these ‘new camps’. Having committed no crime.
Children in the ‘new camps’ will spend more time locked up inside them than they have been alive prior to entering the EU.
This is not acceptable. There is no excuse or reason for it. We must request you act to ensure these camps are not built, or if they are, at the very least, they are not ‘closed’.
On the mainland, too, the situation is atrocious. Most camps have been on ‘lockdown’ even while bars, shops and restaurants were open all over Greece. And when people are moved from the horrendous island camps they are either crammed into wildly overcrowded mainland camps, or the people already in those camps are forced onto the streets to make way for them.
We must request, Madam Commissioner, that whether Greece utilises its 500,000 empty buildings, or other EU member states offer decent places for these men, women and children to live, you act to end this atrocious situation.
We know the EU can and should be a beacon of decent behaviour towards people in need, and a protector of international law. But it will only be this if it acts to make it happen.
Please help us correct the horrifying, immoral, illegal, and dangerous reality which is the European Union for these innocent men, women and children.