The situation in Idomeni in Greece is worsening by the hour as desperation mounts over inhumane European border policies. People are fighting amongst themselves and against the police. Some refugees are defending the police to avoid violent escalations. Stranded for over a month, about 14,000 people are stuck in limbo. The strategy by the Greek government is to make the conditions so unbearable that people will eventually go to the four new camps away from the border.
As international non-governmental organizations (INGO) and intergovernmental organisations are withdrawing from deportation camps, often referred to as “hotspots”, wishing not to be part of the recent deal between the EU and Turkey which compromises human rights, things are getting more difficult for refugees.
On Lesvos, discrimination is rife as the police are in charge of the entire process in the absence of INGOs. I was detained yesterday for giving my Balochi friends a hug at the port after they had been granted travel permits to claim asylum in Athens. They are fleeing genocide and their case is the strongest I, as a vulnerable cases volunteer, has seen here. “You wait here,” the officer told me. Apart from the unbearable racist comments about the “dirty work” he was sent to Lesvos to carry out, he was intimidating, did not tell me what I was accused of and forced me to come to the office the next morning, adding that if I refused they would find me.
The level of training these policemen receive prior to dealing with the refugees is of great concern. These vulnerable people are being dealt with exclusively by police that have had no appropriate training and who are unable to speak the languages needed to provide information to the refugees. There is also an alarming reluctance to provide the information. The volunteers in Lesvos are creating an incidents database that will pick up violations of human rights and breaches of international law. The cases come in by the hour. In the camps refugees only get two meals per day. These meals lack nutrition and flavour, very much like prison food. They are distributed on behalf of the government which is now in charge of shelter, food, hygiene, deportation and asylum “services”.
Moria, a “hotspot”, is severely understaffed and only a few NGO workers remain. The building is a former prison converted into a campsite which was open to refugees to register until the deal with Turkey was made on 20 March this year and it was closed. It has since become an overcrowded prison where people fight for food and vendors sell food to the starving through fences. This is happening in Europe and would never happen in places like Jordan where camps consist of up to 60,000 people.
Pakistani and Afghanis are discriminated against by both their inmates and also by asylum procedures. They are last in the queue to get asylum, despite the fact that they have been here over one month. Pakistanis in Moria have declared a hunger strike, demanding immediate access to asylum procedures. Many have refused to register and stay remotely which has made them vulnerable to exploitation. There have been several incidences of sexual exploitation, which, when reported, nothing has been done.
The recent deal made between the EU and Turkey is exacerbating the vulnerability of these people. Under the deal, migrants and refugees who arrive in Greece from Turkey face being sent back once they have been registered and their individual asylum claim processed. For each Syrian returned from Greece to Turkey, one will be sent the other way for direct resettlement in Europe. This deal is inhumane and conditions the resettlement of a refugee on the basis that one will risk their life on the dangerous journey to Greece.
The deal will only increase the prices of smugglers shipping desperate people across the seas. It will also lead to changes in migration patterns, which could lead to even deadlier crossings. The Guardian published a story on Friday reporting that Turkey-based smugglers have begun to re-advertise trips between Turkey and Italy, the first hint of a shift in migration patterns as a result of the deal. According to the article, smugglers were offering places for $4,000 (£2,780) per person, four times the cost of a journey from Turkey to Greece.
Turkey is also not a safe place for people to return to. The conditions for refugees in Turkey are not adequate. Two million of the three million refugees are living outside camps, meaning that access to services is extremely limited. The country has been accused of refoulement (the expulsion of persons who have the right to be recognised as refugees) and has mistreated refugees. It is not a full signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Turkey retains a geographic limitation to its ratification of the convention which means that only those fleeing as a consequence of “events occurring in Europe” can be given refugee status.
The deal compromises the rights of individual asylum seekers to a fair and timely asylum process. Summary processing by nationality will endanger the asylum chances of those who have faced discrimination as a result of issues such as their sexual orientation or unfair laws from their country of origin. The deal is transparently a business deal under which the 60% of the 50,000 people now in Greece who are non-Syrians will greatly suffer.
Anger is rising in Greek detention centres as well as at the border, creating an unsafe environment for the vulnerable as the deal evidently fails to address key issues. This deal is creating an even more precarious situation in which asylum seekers face a huge risk of their cases falling through the cracks due to bureaucracy and untrained and inexperienced staff. This is a European as well as a humanitarian catastrophe.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.