Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Report from Moria

I realize I'm not writing these days; I don't feel like there's much to say. But I still keep up with events in Mytilini and Moria through a Whatsapp group.

Conditions inside Moria have been getting progressively worse. I think I told you all about the hunger strike a couple of weeks ago. Many issues have revolved around food. There hasn't been enough of it, the police running the camp apparently don't really know how to distribute it, and judging from the photos uploaded to the group, the food has been less than satisfactory.

pile of rejected food from the hunger strike. they look like hot dogs.
photo by someone known only to me as Secoady in the group

meals in moria: bread and potatoes, bread and pasta
photos by Sham Jutt

One of the refugees who used to stay at Better Days for Moria, a Pakistani, Sham, has been regularly reporting from inside about the worsening conditions. A few days ago he reported that after asking a policeman why he put two people in front of him in the food line, the policeman kicked him and said "Fuck you, I'm an officer and management and who are you? Garbage Pakistani?" and our friend didn't get food. 

photo of the police coming after Sham with his nightstick out
photo by Sham Jutt

Though food has been a point of contention, it's certainly not all about food. The following short video, also taken by Sham I think, captures part of one of the protests inside Moria this month. 

As I told you before, most NGOs pulled out of Moria when it became a detention center, though EuroRelief was still inside. Amnesty International was granted access in early April, just after the first deportations started on the fourth. Human Rights Watch went in shortly thereafter, I think. I know they went in, but not sure exactly when. However, it doesn't seem to have made much difference to conditions inside. Where it may have made a difference, though I'm not sure, is that a few days ago Moria, and the camp VIOL on the Greek island of Chios, opened their gates, allowing refugees some freedom of movement.

However, there were many people still locked up. A majority of the Pakistanis (who have been treated especially badly throughout this whole mess) and for some unfathomable reason the unaccompanied minors who are supposed to be under the aegis of the UNHCR.

Sham reported this morning that there was a riot or near riot around food distribution again. He said that Syrian and Afghan men with rocks and iron (I'm not sure what the iron was) started a big fight in the distribution line, that the stones were "coming like rain", and that many people were injured. Sham also said there were only three or four policemen there, and two or three army men, and that very few people got food.

Then around 5:00 this afternoon, reports started coming in from volunteers who were near the camp that there was another riot situation, that people were throwing stones at the police and that police had responded with tear gas. 

Apparently, the riot started when the unaccompanied minors (I'm certain my friend--the trauma victim of an earlier post--was in on this, possibly one of the instigators) broke out of their cells. I don't blame them at all for breaking out; the fact that they were locked up at all is unconscionable. 
Reports said a fence was torn down, fires started, and offices broken into. EASO (European Asylum Support Office), EuroRelief, Moria's director, and refugees receiving medical care were all evacuated. The latest reports say that the refugees are now in complete control of the camp and were apparently broadcasting "Freedom, Freedom" over the loudspeakers.

I hope they get their freedom. All of them.


The refugees are still in control of the camp, but there have been many injuries. Ambulances did arrive to take out wounded people. Apparently there are many fires as well, and the police were being driven out of camp. It's inspirational that they were able to stand up for their rights, but I'm terrified of what will likely happen tomorrow. The authorities are apparently already talking about mass deportations without redress, but I fear there will be much violence. Below is a photo taken inside the camp this afternoon. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Last Days on Lesvos--for so many

Again I must apologize for falling behind in my posts. After everything fell apart in Lesvos, I was pretty sick, exhausted, and depressed again. I think we all felt like we had been hit with a tsunami--that everything we had worked for was swept away by a force far too large to resist with any success.

People are still there resisting. Refugees, volunteers, NGO staff, local residents... But I couldn't stay and be part of that, though I love a good protest. My visa was about to expire and I had to leave enough time on it that I can go back to Athens for my flight out. I left about a week so I have time to check out the anarchist scene in Exarchia where squats are being set up for refugees. I hear it is especially busy now that the EU in its infinite wisdom decided to clear everybody out of the functioning camps and move them either to Athens or to some quickly erected make-shift camps all over mainland Greece. Especially since these camps have absolutely no facilities other than tents. No running water. No electricity or wi-fi (so no light or connection with friends, family...anyone). No medical services, distribution... Really, nothing.

One particularly problematic aspect of having no electricity or internet is that those seeking asylum (and they are all supposed to be able to) are given Skype appointments to request it. A little hard to keep a Skype appointment without wi-fi. Although, maybe it's a moot point, because according to all reports I've heard the Skype number doesn't work or isn't answered. Great. Good job EU. Missing an appointment through no fault of your own is a great way to deny asylum. It's so easy.

Ugh. What a mess. Deportations started on April 4th, but stopped on the 5th. Then they started again, but there haven't been that many. However, I heard today that the port of Piraeus (near Athens) is to be cleared out by Easter--the Greek Orthodox celebrate Easter May 1st this year) and the government has been trying to clear the makeshift camp at Idomeni on the Macedonian border. MSF does have a small camp there built to accommodate 1,500 people, but there have been up to ten times that many stuck there recently.

There have been thousands stuck there since the borders closed. Yesterday, apparently, a group tried to break through and the Macedonian police used tear gas and rubber bullets to stop it, wounding a lot of people in the process. People have tried to cross through the closed border before--last month two groups attempted to cross the river. In one group, that wasn't as organized, several people drowned. The other group used a cable, but were brought back as soon as they made it across.

Though I think the EU's deal with Turkey, and much of the way they've handled this has been awful, I still have to fault the US even more. Much of the blame for the crisis must be placed squarely on the shoulders of US policy. I found it incredible when a US State Department undersecretary (or something) showed up at Moria a couple of weeks ago--after it was turned into a detention camp. The State Department put out a statement saying they were very concerned about the refugee issue, but apparently not concerned enough to stop dropping bombs on half the world and making economic war on virtually all of it.

And still there are refugees coming here to Izmir hoping to cross into Greece and start a new life in Europe.