Over Christmas, the public focus shifted once again to Europe's largest refugee camp, Moria 2, also known as Kara Tepe. 

Since its hasty construction in September, the camp has become a showcase of the EU’s intentional abandonment of humanity and institutionalization of cruelty: It imprisons over 7000 vulnerable people on a potentially lead-poisoned site [1] under catastrophic conditions that may keep them alive, but systematically dehumanize and mentally destroy them [2]. Moria 2 is structural abuse and human rights violation against over 7000 refugees every single day.  

Despite the magnitude of this European made catastrophe, it is quite remarkable that Moria 2 is still in the media. Greek authorities have implemented several strategies to eliminate or at least minimize the flow of information from the camp. Tight restrictions, a system of dependency and a repressive climate of fear are used to establish censorship.   

This is done on three levels: silencing the refugees inside the camp, hindering journalists in their work and restricting and criminalizing NGO's and activists.

Since the camp is officially a military facility, it can be easily controlled. Once because it is surrounded by barbed wire and secondly because taking pictures or collecting information can be interpreted as espionage – a charge with severe consequences that could mean life in prison. A powerful weapon to silence all kinds of reporting and critical voices inside and outside the camp.

The silencing of refugees

Refugees who are forced to live in the camp are the most exposed to the authority’s repression, especially when it comes to bearing testimony of the horrific conditions in the camp and making this public. They are extremely limited in their freedom of movement by prison-like regimentation, which makes interacting with the outside world very difficult. Refugees are also forbidden to take pictures. If done anyway it could mean being thrown out of the camp, the end of the asylum procedure or hefty fines.

Most of the pictures from inside the camp, that show the rain floods, open sewage, insect-infested tents, leftover ammunition or mouldy food have been taken by refugees and can therefore be seen as an act of resistance.

But also passing on the pictures can be a challenge: Electricity is often only available for a few hours a day, the Wi-Fi is unreliable and has been switched off before and buying data is expensive and hard to obtain when one is not allowed to leave the camp. Additionally, one of the most active Twitter accounts from inside the camp @moria2_gr has been blocked since early December for unknown reasons.  

On Lesvos refugees have been discouraged to talk to the media for a long time. Well placed rumors that this will harm their asylum procedure have had a strong impact. This is also the reason why many groups including Mare Liberum choose not to publish full names of refugees or publish pictures in combination with critical statements or testimonies unless it is explicitly wanted by those who give the information.  

The video by the BBC "Lesbos: Who started the fire?" [3] war ein wichtiges Stück Journalismus, das Filmmaterial und Beobachtungen von Bewohner:innen des alten Moria-Lagers sammelte, die die offizielle Darstellung der griechischen Regierung in Frage stellten, dass das Feuer von sechs jungen afghanischen Geflüchteten gelegt wurde. Nach der Veröffentlichung wurden Geflüchtete, die in dem Video interviewt wurden von der Polizei vorgeladen und mehrfach verhört. Und dies war kein Einzelfall. Geflüchtete, die sich öffentlich zu Wort melden, müssen mit Repressalien seitens der Behörden rechnen. 

The restriction of press freedom

Greece is ranked 65th in the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders. [4] Compared to other EU members this is already very low, but it can be assumed that the situation on the Greek islands, at the land border and especially in and around camps is significantly more difficult for journalists. 

One example: On September 8th the old Moria was destroyed by a fire. 12.000 refugees were once again displaced and forced to sleep out on the street, were intentionally starved out by the authorities, were refused drinking water and subjected to excessive police violence. The world was shocked by footage of children in terror trying to wash tear gas out of their eyes. During those days many journalists were hindered from doing their work: being denied access, being threatened and even physically attacked [5].

When the new camp Moria 2 was set up in September there was one guided tour for invited journalists and media representatives.

Since then they are not allowed inside the camp and there have been many cases when journalists, who wanted to report about the camp and the situation for refugees were intimidated or taken to the police station and detained for many hours.

Authorities use military equipment, such as drones, to survey the area and to locate people who want to take pictures or gather information. Journalists have also claimed that they are being shadowed by individuals that are presumably plainclothes secret police.

And this does not only happen on Lesvos.

In October 2020 a German film crew making a documentary about climate change-induced migration, was detained on Samos for eight hours. Their equipment was confiscated, they were strip-searched and repeatedly denied access to a lawyer [6].

End of November 2020 a Canadian filmmaker and three German journalists went to a place where refugees had landed in the north of Lesvos. All four were taken to the police station. The Filmmaker was detained for two days and found guilty of ‘violating migrant law’ in a speed trial and sentenced to 12 months on probation [7].

Control and criminalization of NGOs

Another important actor and witness to the proceedings in the camps are the NGOs. 

In Moria 2 there are too many NGOs with profoundly differing focus' and orientation to speak about them as one, yet they all experience the same increase in pressure from the Greek government.

Due to a recent law change NGO workers inside the camp now have to sign a confidentiality clause that forbids them to take pictures and videos or to speak about what they see or hear inside the camp - even after their contract ends. It is a lifelong ban on reporting human rights violations committed in the camp.

Even in the past many NGO's that were given the accreditation to operate inside the camps have refrained from publicly criticizing the intolerable conditions so they wouldn't risk their position and the cooperation with the authorities.

But this was 'voluntary' censorship, now there are no more critical NGO voices from within by law. If an NGO were to speak up they would most probably lose their accreditation, which means the best access to help refugees but also a position that is a guarantor for the most donations. 

But even before this new clause and a new law that make the process of being registered as an NGO in Greece much harder and in some cases impossible, NGOs didn't have an easy life on the island. The highly militarized border zone made it very easy for the authorities to disguise unjust repression against solidarity structures as security measures. 

Additionally, the criminalization of NGOs has had a deterrent effect: There was the case against Sarah Mardini and Sean Biden, who both spent over 100 days in prison and are facing a trial that could put them in jail for up to 25 years for spotting and rescuing arriving refugees with the Greek non-profit Emergency Response Center International (ECRI).

“The police decided to create this case to push back all the NGOs from the Lesbos,” their lawyer Zakarias Kessos said in 2018 [8].

In September 2020 the Greek police held a press conference announcing a currently ongoing investigation against initially four [9] and now seven [10] NGOs with the same severe charges.

It is of utmost importance that the current attention on Moria 2 is not just seasonal, not just an emotional sympathy that goes well with the Christmas spirit. Moria 2 is Europe's biggest refugee camp and it is politically intended, not a natural disaster that occurred. Human rights violations are covered up, ignored and supported on a grant scale. Those who want to expose or fight them, no matter if they are affected themselves or in solidarity, are being silenced.

Those silencing - measures by the Greek authorities clearly violate Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [11], which grants the Freedom of expression and gives individuals the right to express their opinion without the fear of censorship or retaliation as well as the right to implementing the freedom of press.

Independent press is one of the pillars of every free society. A democracy depends on journalists to inform the public, create transparency and to hold political leaders accountable.

This is obviously not a given at Europe’s external borders, so it is up to everyone to make sure the criminal attempts of the authorities to keep camps such as Moria 2 out of the media are not successful.

All Camps Are Bad!

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