Migrants keep coming to the Greek islands
Despite the EU-Turkey deal, migrants keep making the dangerous treck to Europe in search of a decent future. According to the NGO Aegean Boat Report, 2.198 migrants reached the Greek islands between the 1st and the 11th of August.
Most of them arrived on the island of Lesvos, followed by Samos, Kos and Chios. From the 5th to the 12th of August 2019, about 1.400 refugees came to Lesvos on around 26 boats. That might be the highest number of migrants arriving on the Greek Aegean islands in a two week time span since years. Most of the migrants come from Afghanistan (35%), Syria (16%), Kongo, Iraq and Palestine.
Up to the 4th of August, the UNHCR has counted a total of 18.474 arrivals on the Greek islands in 2019. At least 57 have died during the passage in the Eastern Mediterranean.
However, the Turkish Coast Guard has stopped more than 1.400 refugees since 1st of August placing them under temporary arrest in Turkey. There has also been a report of at least another illegal pushback by the Turkish Coast Guard, while the Greek Coast Guard just stood by.
This is more evidence that migration can neither be prohibited nor stopped. We still need a safe passage for migrants and the right to migrate.
The photo shows Greek and Turkish coast guards work together to illegally push back migrants to Turkey on April, 11. Photo: alarmphone.org
"I was like a bird in a cage looking for freedom."
We chatted with a man who was recently deported from Lesvos to Iraq. The Greek authorities took him from Moria Hotspot Camp to Turkey. From there he was taken to Iraq. It was a tragic experience for Farid (changed name). However, he is not the only one. More and more refugees are facing the same problem. They are deported to countries they wanted to leave in the first place. Unfortunately, such deportations are everyday examples of the structural violence of the border regime.
Farid came to Europe because he had political problems and no longer felt safe in his country: " Humanity is bleeding because of weapons makers and clergymen", Farid openly expresses his opinion about the role of the USA, Great Britain, Israel, Russia and criticises clearly terrorists as well as clergymen. However, the Greek authorities rejected his asylum application. That was after he reached Lesbos and was taken to the Moria hotspot camp. That's how Farid got into the deportation system.
First he was isolated in detention for 10 days in the closed section of the Moria Hotspot Camp. When asked how he had felt, he replies: "I was like a bird in a cage looking for freedom".
In the afternoon of 2nd July 2019, the authorities took him to the port of Mytilini. He knew what was coming. The previous day he had been told by the authorities to prepare for deportation. The deportation to Turkey was carried out by ferry. "The Greeks sent me politely. We were not handcuffed," stresses Farid.
In Turkey, the group of rejected refugees was handed over to the Turkish police. The police immediately took them to a prison near Izmir. Farid describes the prison as a bad experience: "The prison was overcrowded. There were no beds, only blankets to sleep on. Access to the toilet was restricted. Communication with the outside world was also forbidden. The police shouted all the time. I also saw a policeman kicking someone wildly with his feet."
Farid stayed in this prison for two days. Then the police handcuffed him and brought him to a bus. "It was a big, crowded bus. We were handcuffed during the whole time. Five policemen with guns kept us under constant observation. Access to the toilet was again restricted. When it was my turn, the policeman forced me to clean the toilet. They humiliated us."
After 23 hours, the bus reached the border to Iraq. The Turkish police removed the handcuffs from the refugees and handed them over to the Iraqi police.
Fortunately, no one was arrested. Today Farid is free. However, he has to live with the same problems he faced before his emigration and he risked his life to get to Europe for nothing. In whose favour?
I tried 13 times before I reached the Greek islands
Our interview partner is a Palestinian psychologist from Gaza. He left Gaza to come to Europe. Currently he lives living in the hotspot camp in Moria on Lesvos. Before he arrived on Lesvos, he was pulled back 12 times by the Turkish coast guard and once even pushed back by German Frontex. This interview helped us grasp what it is to be on dangerous dinghies, pushed and pulled back to Turkey and arrested again and again.
Could you explain how you came to the Greek islands?
In Izmir, I was looking for someone who brings me to Greece. I found a person without too much effort. My first try took place in the end of January 2019. Our boat left the Turkish shore at midnight. We could only move very slowly because we were 45 persons on an only 9-meter long dinghy. One kilometer before reaching the Greek waters, the Turkish Coast Guard saw us. They crashed against our vessel two times to stop us. After that we were picked up onto their boat. Basically, the Turkish coast guard treated us well. However, they informed us that we were doing an illegal thing and that they will bring us to Aydin - a Turkish jail. The jail was clean. I saw only a few persons there. After three days they let me out. I think, this is because the Turkish Government is close to the Palestinians. With another nationality, things could have been different.
You tried to cross the Aegean Sea several times. How was it figured out who will drive the boat?
I knew that the drivers of the boat could get into serious problems if the Greece authorities caught them. The smugglers also know this. The drivers are mainly persons who don’t have enough money for the passage. This is the price they pay for the passage. Sometimes the drivers don’t have any experience on sea. They just know that they have to target a red light on the Greek shore.
What about the other attempts?
Out of jail, I met again the person who tried to bring me to Europe the first time. He brought me to a two-room-apartment. I stayed with 25 other persons. We were not allowed to leave the apartment. In the night a small bus took 45 of us to a place from where the boats are starting. But in that night, the Turkish coast Guard caught us again. While they tore me out of the dinghy, my shoulder dislocated. I asked for help but no doctor came. Not even the next day in jail. They kept me five days in jail before letting me out. Again I went to the person that was supposed to bring me to Europe. I tried four further times with him. Each time I had to pay 240 Dollar for the apartment and 700 Dollar for the passage if I would have succeeded. But with him I was never successful. Once we were even stopped before we reached the dinghy. We were so many in the bus that we couldn’t breathe anymore. The bus was stopped and the police discovered us and brought us to jail again. I decided to look for another person to bring me to Europe.
What about your experiences with this second person trying to bring you to Europe?
I realized the dinghies were to slow because we were too many. So I was looking for a better option. I found someone that promised to bring me to Greece on a boat with fewer passengers. First, I had to pay 40 lira per day for a hotel room and for each try he asked 100 lira in advance. In case of a successful passage I would have to pay 700 dollars. I accepted the deal. However, he cheated: On the boat we were 37 instead of the 25 we agreed on. One more time, the Turkish coast guard stopped us and brought us to Yabangi, another prision. Yabangi was dirty and worse than Aydin. I stayed there for three nights. Then they let me out and I wanted to try again. Every time, I had to pay, pay, pay. I tried five times with this person. We were always much more than the promised 25 persons. Finally I changed strategy. Some people said that I could only make it with a speedboat.
Did you find a person with a speedboat?
Yes, I found this man in March 2019. He proposed a passage on a speedboat with only 16 persons on board for 1200 euro. I accepted the deal. But when we reached the boat, I realized that he also fooled me. Instead of a speedboat, I saw a normal dinghy. Some insisted on getting life jackets for the children. However, we had to leave without life jackets because there was no time. The situation was tense. That night, the Turkish coast guard didn’t stop us. For the first time, I entered Greek waters. There a German Frontex vessel intercepted us. They said that we have to wait for the Greek coast guard and they would bring us to the Greek shore. But instead, the Turkish Coast Guard came. Although we were in Greek waters, they pulled us back to Turkey. We got no further information.
Why did you know that you were in Greek water?
The people that sent us were watching us from the hills on shore. They were in contact with one person on the boat. At one point, they called us and said we crossed the border. On the dinghies there is always such a contact person and a second person with a GPS.
How did your last border crossing take place?
That night, the sea was extremely agitated. Water came into our boat. It was dangerous but the Turkish coast guard didn’t catch us. After we crossed the border, the Greek coast guard picked us up and brought us to the port of Mytilini on Lesvos. They treated us well.
Now you are in Europe. You said it was a dream to come to Europe. How is your life here?
If I would have known how life would be here I would never have come. I expected a better situation. In Gaza, I lived in camps. Now in Europe I lived in another camp. This is a big problem. I hope that my asylum application will be accepted. I would continue my journey to find a better life.
Did you get information regarding your rights as an asylum seeker?
Yes I got information. But when you see things, you realize that there is a difference between words and reality. I will give you an example. They said there are rooms, a kitchen, toilets and showers in the Hotspot Camp in Moria. Now in Moria, I am living in a tent burning hot during the day, I have to share six toilets with 600 others and I spend a lot of time waiting in a line for a toilet or food.
You had a lot of problems getting to Europe. What do you think is the reason for this?
Ask the Greek government for an answer but not me. I am here because I had problems in my country. But I cannot cause a problem here by criticizing the government. I hope to find a job and a good life later. Here I have to be patient.
Right wing tendencies in Chios and Greece threaten safety of refugees and activists
The island of Chios, located in the Aegean Sea, is the unforgiving ‘temporary’ home of around 2000 refugees. The vast majority of them live in Vial refugee camp, located 6.8km from Chios’ main port and town. Vial is no exception to most refugee camps in Greece; the conditions are dire and overcrowded, toilets are lacking, the food is appalling, snakes and rats are incessantly intruding residents and neighbors. NGOs on the island provide for most of the services and provisions, including medical care and the distribution of basic goods. Chios Eastern Shore Response Team (CESRT), for example, provides for 90% of the provisions of Vial camp according to their founder Toula Kitromilidi, who is a Chios local.
One of the main difficulty’s refugees face in their asylum process, according to a local legal organization, is that the process is very unfair. People are not informed about their rights or the procedural steps required, which are very long and complicated. Some interviews are being scheduled for as late as 2023, and the interviews themselves can last as long as 9 hours where people relive traumas and revisit very painful parts of their past.
In contrast to the miserable condition’s refugees experience on Chios, Chios itself has always been a wealthy island and even the Greek financial crisis of the last decade barely touched it. Attitudes from locals in Chios have, over the years, shifted with regards to refugees. When the first boats began arriving on the island in 2015, people were supportive. Local groups of people cooked for the arrivals in the park to show their solidarity with the refugees, and they made up to 700 meals per day. Once refugees were taken to the no longer existing Souda camp, local teachers and Jenny, a local activist, organized open playgrounds for the children of all the camps and supported refugees along with other friends. As Jenny points out, even those who did not actively help refugees were accepting of them because “in the beginning, many refugees came from wealthy families, they slept in hotels, went to restaurants and in some cases were taken advantage of, with locals charging them up to 10 euros for a sandwich or 5 euros for a bottle of water.”
Currently, however, apart from Jenny and her group of solidarity friends, and a few other local NGOs including CESRT and FEOX, public perception of refugees has shifted. Disinformation and misinformation about refugees feed xenophobic attitudes, and perceptions range from people fearing that refugees on Chios are there to convert society and religion into Islam, or that people should not get too close to refugees because they might catch an illness.
Added to the mix, the neo-Nazi, fascist political party Golden Dawn and other likeminded informal groups like the no longer active Committee Against Refugees (Παγχιακή Επιτροπή Αγώνα) are present on Chios. Over the last few years they have been very active and engaged in violent attacks on refugees, on numerous occasions. Most notably in two pogroms in 2016 when refugees in protest occupied the town hall and people in solidarity with them were attacked by local mobs in the main square, and again when locals threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at refugees from the castle walls situated above the Souda camp. Both of these attacks were organized and planned ahead of time and many fascists traveled from Athens in the days prior in order to carry them out. These larger-scale events are only two examples of countless isolated attacks against refugees throughout the years. Not only are the refugees under attack, but local advocates working in solidarity with them, like Jenny and her friends, have suffered harsh consequences for being supportive of refugees. Jenny and one friend--who prefers not to be named--have both received death threats, intimidations of violence, and direct attacks. These intimidations and attacks have disincentivized helping others, in fear of what might happen.
In 2019, the most recent attack took place 3 months ago where eggs were thrown at refugees; however, currently the violent attacks by the Golden Dawn and other fascist groups have subsided after some heavy prison sentences were given to some of their members after they attacked the chief of police Athanasios Basioukas in 2017, when he wasn’t in uniform and was assumed to be someone supportive of refugees. Therefore, it has been much safer on the streets, both for refugees and local activists, but according to Jenny and her friends, the true danger is bigger than ever. Before, the fascists were visible and open about their views. Now, people with the same ideas of forcible suppression and fear for diversity are dressed in suits and ties, and their views are reflected in the policies they legislate. They know how to captivate public opinion and they disguise their motivations in nationalistic and populist sentiments. On June 3rd 2019, the recent municipal elections in Chios were won by ex-military Stamatis Karmantzis with about 52% of the vote. Karmantziz will become the new mayor of Chios. In the past, he has been quoted as saying: “a good Turkish is a dead Turkish” and he shares many values of the Committee Against Refugees. Furthermore, many seats in the municipality are held by the party Χίος Μπροστά (loosely translated as Chios in Front) which is a new political party with links to the Committee Against Refugees.
Due to the further solidified anti-refugee political climate, local activists in solidarity with refugees fear hate speech will become more legitimized and people’s extreme right-wing sentiments will be backed by those in power. This election is in itself part of a wider national Greek movement towards the far-right and in a few months the far-right is also expected to win the national elections, making these developments even more worrisome as they will be reflected on the experiences and processes of refugees all over Greece.
According to local activists, some of the expected consequences of these political ideologies gaining more power are:
- Vial may become a detention center and a closed camp, meaning people will not be able to leave freely into town to buy necessities or visit community centers run by NGO’s such as Action for Education and others which provide a safe space for refugees to learn new skills, relax and enjoy a community outside of the camp.
- Massive deportations may begin, which is something few people are aware of and public information on this possibility is very limited
- Increase in refoulment, the militarization of the border, increased pushbacks including masked military men damaging refugee boats.
These developments must be resisted and the example of the brave people in solidarity with refugees should be followed: Fighting in the streets against these ideologies and putting public pressure on the authorities not only to treat refugees with dignity and respect but to change the systemic violence currently exerted on refugees within the current political framework both in Europe and in Greece.
Indeed, these developments are not limited to Chios or Greece but are evermore present in many countries and cities throughout the EU. Refugee camps like Vial, not only provide for dire living conditions for refugees but also marginalize and exclude refugees from society, allowing for prejudices and hate to grow. The EU must abolish the Dublin regulation and allow people to freely search for a better life.
Alarming conditions for refugees in Samos
A team from Mare Liberum recently travelled to Samos. Video, photos and report document their observations on the human rights situation on the island.
On the Greek island of Samos, it is only a five minute walk up a hill, from the Vathi central square until the infamous “hotspot” is in sight. This “hotspot”, the refugee camp, pours over the hills on the outskirts of town. Its official capacity is 650 residents, but the actual number of inhabitants is unknown. Official numbers by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, report 3,200 refugees currently living on Samos as of May 2019; other NGOs believe there are more than 5,000.
The numbers change daily as some people are transferred to camps on other islands or the mainland and new arrivals continue to land in Samos. Barely a night goes by without a boat managing to dodge the patrolling coast guard and cross the 1.6 kilometers of water between Turkey and Samos at its closest point. The dinghies carry between 30-60 people on average.
Around the official gated camp where people live in containers, the so called “jungle” spreads, which is where the majority of the refugee population is situated. The terrain is not at all lush, as the name jungle would insinuate, but it is unruly. Hundreds of 5 euro beach tents and shelters made with plastic and spare pieces of wood are placed on the hillside, between piles of trash. The whole camp is covered in garbage as any official waste disposal system is not functioning. NGOs like Refugee4Refugees, founded by Omar, a Syrian refugee who is on the island since 2015, try their best to clean up the site. Refugee4Refugees has managed to dispose of 15 tons of trash in the last few months, but the camp is still a vile dump. Rats are everywhere, some the size of a one liter bottle, which in turn attracts snakes up to two meters in length.
Debbie*, 22, is from Ghana. She arrived on Samos four days ago. She is five months pregnant and alone on the island. She says she does not know who her child's father is: "I was raped in Turkey by two men." When Debbie arrived in Samos, she saw a doctor from the camp who handed her some papers in Greek writing. It's her diagnose and referral to another doctor. She does not know how to read it nor who to ask for its translation. She doesn’t know where to go next. She lives in a small tent with a stranger she met just days ago. There is no sanitation in this area and, therefore, hygiene is extremely poor. The only water available for washing comes from a small hole in the ground near a mountain of garbage.
The camp is informally divided into different sections by ethnicity. To the west of the “hotspot” are mainly people from Palestine and Iraq. Sitting in the sun, with an absent-minded look, is Mahmoud. His friends say he is crazy. Mahmoud crossed the Aegean swimming from Turkey to Samos with his friend Abdul because they could not afford to pay the smugglers. At sea they became separated. Mahmoud immediately alarmed the police when he arrived on the island. After an unsuccessful search and 17 days without news, Abdul’s body was found. Mahmoud and a group of other refugees held a small funeral for Abdul. One of them shot a video when they opened the body bag during the ceremony. It shows Abduls lifeless torso, grey and bloated from over two weeks in the water, bite marks on his chest.
About five minutes from the camp is Alpha, a community and educational center, where refugees can take courses in English and Greek or music and computer skills. Bogdan, who founded the center with his NGO Samos Volunteers, says things went from bad to worse after September and October 2018 when an additional 4,000 people arrived. He sees his students’ mental health deteriorate in front of his eyes, especially after two or three months of being on the island and living without toilets, showers or any feeling of safety. "Not knowing what is going to happen to them, that is the hardest part," says Bogdan, and he adds that between the thousands of traumatized people, the camp and the jungle share one psychologist.
Several NGOs like Samos Volunteers and Refugee4Refugees try to ease the situation by offering educational spaces and activities, legal support, or aid in the distribution of tents, sleeping bags and hygiene products. However, Bogdan says the conditions in the camp do not seem to be improving, instead they are getting worse: “Nothing functions. Everything is broken. What do you want to prioritize? I don't want to prioritize anymore.”
Meanwhile, tensions within the camp are rising. In January, the francophone African community organized large protests against the terrible conditions of the camp and “jungle”. They attempted to march again in May, but police forces violently stopped them from speaking out. Volunteers and journalists on the scene were also taken in for questioning; their phones were checked for pictures and videos captured at the protest .
Émery, from the Congo, was there that day. He lives in a tent he set up for him and his wife just a few meters from the main road, where the African portion of the “jungle” begins. The hills here are steep, which makes it even harder to put up an upright tent, and the area is closer to the garbage dump, were the stench is the worst.
Émery and his wife have been living here for 10 months, without any change in sight. Hopes turned into frustration and frustration turned into anger. Émery is a learned man. He speaks English, French and Portuguese and talks about the colonial powers that have been exploiting Congo's mineral resources for generations, about racism and capitalism in Africa and Europe. “We come to take back what the West has stolen from us. They exploited our bodies and minds for hundreds of years. If they don't want us here they should leave Africa for Africans. How can we survive?" He says that all his suffering might be worth it, if it allows his grandchildren have a better life.
But his optimism is interrupted by thoughts of how inhumane life is in Samos, where he says he and his neighbors are treated worse than animals. After demonstrators were beaten down by the police, his patience came to an end. "There will not be a next protest," says Émery, and he sounds like he means it. "Next time there will be fire. We will light this place on fire."
*The names of all residents of the camp and jungle have been changed to not jeopardize their asylum application process
Mare Liberum operations 23.5.2019
During our watch at the east coast of Lesbos, mission coordinator Farshad took some time to explain Mare Liberum's operations in the Aegean Sea. The situation between Turkey and Greece continues to be precarious for many people fleeing to safety in Europe. We are here and we are working for the human rights of anyone attempting to cross the waters.
Mare Liberum sets sail! 19.5.2019
We are finally back at sea and now on watch on the East coast of the Greek Island of Lesbos, facing the Turkish border. We are delighted to continue our mission monitoring human rights in the Aegean, after the courts lifted our illegal suspension in port. As people continue to attempt to cross the sea everyday, we work to bring the public an independent and accurate account of Europe’s border. Video
Life-jacket graveyard at Lesbos' North shore. 16.5.2019
In the hills near the Greek town of Molyvos ten-thousands of life-jackets paint a picture of what migration looks like at the European border. Almost all of them are so-called "fake life-jackets", sold in Turkey for around €10. They are filled with layers of plastic material that allows them to float for a short while, before they soak up and become an additional weight for people after capsizing. These jackets are often the only ones refugees can afford, especially when they need multiple attempts to cross the Aegean. The worst jackets are those for children. They are plastic jackets for swimming pools, not meant to be used on a boat, with a written warning: "Will not protect against drowning." Many people trying to come to Europe cannot swim. In an emergency, these fake life-jackets are their only hope. Creating safe migration routes for refugees seeking asylum is possible – but the European Union has chosen not to. Mare Liberum will set sail soon, hoping to make the Aegean Sea a little less deadly.
Photos: Mare Liberum/Dylan Lebecki & David Fischer
Mare Liberum is ready to set sail once again 23.4.2019
Reflections on one year monitoring human rights in the Aegean
Mare Liberum is monitoring human rights in the Aegean Sea by ship, and we are prepared to set sail for the second season of monitoring human rights. Our dedicated volunteers feel the urge to prevent unnecessary deaths at Europe’s maritime border. Mare Liberum aims to observe, document and draw public attention to the dangerous situation at the European border.
It has been one year since Mare Liberum arrived on Lesvos.1 Shortly before we arrived we were sadly reminded why we started the Mare Liberum project. Fourteen people - two families from Iraq and Afghanistan - drowned in the Aegean Sea because their boat sank. Despite being alerted, the Greek Coast Guard did not rescue them.2 During 2018 alone, 174 people lost their lives trying to cross the Aegean Sea. Since the beginning of 2019, sixteen refugees have already drowned.3 On April 11th refugees reported they were “refouled” 4 from Greek waters into Turkish waters. Mare Liberum’s aim is for this not to happen anymore. People are drowning, though they could live if legal and safe passage were offered. We are there to bear witness. People should be rescued and have their human rights respected, without regard to their origins. The lives of refugees should be equally valued to those of people with an EU-passport.
However, even with a good idea and the best of intentions, one still has to go through a lot of legal trouble in order to be able to pursue this idea. But for us, it was and continues to be worth it. One year ago, ahead of our mission, it was our goal to get the ship ready to sail. Many volunteers helped us by painting, de-rusting and so on. Our vanguard and long-term mission coordinator arrived on Lesvos in April 2018 and networked with all the organisations and institutions present there. Soon every volunteer and every Coast Guard member on the island had heard of Mare Liberum, even before we were ready to sail. And this is exactly our goal: authorities in the region should know we are there, watching.
MARE LIBERUM with new paint.
From the beginning
The search and rescue NGO Sea-Watch had performed a monitoring mission in the Aegean in 2017.5 Though their priorities shifted more towards search and rescue in the centrel Mediterranean, they saw the importance of the continuation of an oversight mission in the Aegean. They trusted us to continue the activism for refugees and human rights, and so they supported the founding of Mare Liberum. Not only that, they even sold us their former ship (SEA WATCH 1) for just a single euro.
Upon arrival in Greece, the positive chaos and inspired commotion of 2015 had ceased. Both the number of refugees crossing the maritime border to the European Union (EU) and the number of volunteers receiving them have decreased. Now that the EU-Turkey Deal 6 had been implemented, the international attention towards the situation had faded. Coast Guards and the EU border agency FRONTEX are gaining back control of the sea between Turkey and Greece. What hasn’t changed, however, is the fact that too many people die after being shipwrecked and the pressing misery pushing for people’s arrival to Europe continues to worsen. After arrival in the EU, refugees are forced to live in overcrowded camps. The current conditions of refugee Camp Moria 7 serve as a prime example.
Furthermore, our arrival was met by a climate of repression and criminalisation. Spotters of Lighthouse Relief 8 were being pushed away from their spots. Civilian initiatives to help those people arriving by boat were prevented by the authorities. The Coast Guard was not allowing the search and rescue unit of Refugee Rescue 9 to help people in distress. Just as we were about to start our mission, three volunteers of a search and rescue organisation were arrested on Lesvos. Sean Binder, Nassos Karakitsos and Sara Mardini 10 were amongst the accused and arrested for collaborating with smugglers. It wasn’t until the following December that they were finally released. 11 These false allegations and unwarranted arrests are a clear example of the attack on solidarity-organisations in general. Meanwhile, in the central Mediterranean Sea the search and rescue NGO Sea-Eye 12 was forced to stop its mission because their flag was withdrawn. Contrastingly, the search and rescue organisation Mission Lifeline 13 was forced to stay out at sea with 234 people on board since they were denied access to the ports. We ourselves had to be very careful with our actions; however, the Seebrücke movement 14 gave us immense support, and backing from Germany pushed us forward to follow through with our plans.
Bringing our mission statement to life
Finally, at the end of August 2018 we had our flag and permission to sail. We navigated to the north of Lesvos which is one main arrival point for refugee boats. We were saluted from the shore and warmly welcomed by our friends working in the town of Skala Sikamineas. Some hours later, Frontex approached us during our dinner to check our papers. It showed us yet again that we were at the right place and that the authorities were aware of our presence. So we celebrated the start of our mission and the very same night we began sending out night shifts, looking out for refugee boats.
After some weeks of monitoring at sea, we realized that it is very difficult to be at the right spot when a boat is arriving. We are not allowed to patrol border alongside Frontex, so either they were always the first to arrive to a boat, or the refugee boats reached land without having been detected. Still, we kept observing. We remained at the ready. An additional approach that we adopted has been to monitor the general situation, investigate political and social developments affecting those on the islands and at sea, and act as a loudspeaker to call more attention to a what has become a neglected issue.
Spreading the word about Mare Liberum
As tension in the region continues, Mare Liberum continues to be a reliable source for updates from the ground. Due to our ability to take journalists on the water, tangibly show what refugees go through to reach Europe, and explain how the EU’s authorities behave, our shop is often frequented by journalists.
Fortunately, the media’s special coverage of our work caught the attention of the Punk-Rock-Singer Monchi of Feine Sahne Fischfilet.15 Monchi not only visited Lesvos and camp Moria, but he also stayed several nights on the MARE LIBERUM 16 with our crew. We cannot thank him enough for his work in calling more attention to the European border. The band took us on tour with them to all of their concerts and organized events in collaboration with Audiolith, their booking agency, where we could present our work alongside the association Solidarity at Sea. 17
Solidarity at Sea is managing support to the criminalized volunteers of the IUVENTA-crew. The IUVENTA was used as a search and rescue vessel saving a total of 14,000 people from the sea bordering Libya, before the Italian police seized the ship in 2017. Regardless, some of the former crew members are not afraid to continue working for refugees’ rights with Mare Liberum. 18 We will keep on struggling side by side, as we live by the solidarity and the support of many. 19
Refugge Camp on Samos
Expanding our horizons
In November 2018 we sailed the Mare Liberum to the island of Chios in order to get a better understanding of the situation one hundred kilometers south of Lesvos. We met with local solidarity actors and were taken to and informed about the situation in Vial, the local refugee camp. Again, the Coast Guard visited us 20 and showed us that they were very aware of our presence, which is just what we want. A few months later, in January, we went to Samos to support other local initiatives and obtain a better understanding of the situation on the island, which gets even less international coverage than Lesvos. It was striking to see how a manageable and predictable situation such as the winter was deliberately not being handled properly, showing a complete lack of respect and heavy discomfort for the migrants who are forcibly stuck on the island.
After broadening our scope of activities and expanding our horizons within less than four months of sailing, we ended our first season in the beginning of December. Just like everyone else on Moria and Vial, we had to prepare for winter the best we could.
During these winter months we did several public appearances, informing people about our work and organizing internal workshops. Despite being in between mission seasons, we do not keep quiet. Three years after the EU-Turkey deal came into effect, we published a joint statement with several other NGO’s, calling for European leaders to end this humanitarian crisis. 21 We also took to the streets, together with refugees, denouncing the policies that force people to either live in horrible conditions or die at sea.
We repaired and prepared our ship to be ready for the next season, which is starting very soon. Many volunteers contributed their time to make this happen. We will continue our mission and to strengthen the support of solidarity and fundamental human rights.
Demonstration in Mytillini on the ocasion of three years EU-Turkey-Deal, 16.3.2019
Many refer to the EU-Turkey-Deal as a dirty, considering that the EU is trading people. The EU pays money to Turkey for taking back refugees who have arrived to Greece via Turkey. Turkey is intercepting about 50 % of refugees-boats now. Before it was only about 20 %. For further info: https://harekact.bordermonitoring.eu/category/monitoring-the-eu-turkey-deal/ https://sea-watch.org/en/why-we-demand-the-cancellation-of-the-eu-turkey-deal/ https://www.msf.org/euturkey-two-years-deal-continues-fail-thousands-people-seeking-asylum ↩
Moria is an EU-hot-spot refugee camp on Lesbos, harboring nearly 9,000 people when there is barely enough space for a third that number. See also: https://www.borderline-europe.de/unsere-arbeit/ein-gef%C3%BChl-von-ohnmacht-auf-der-gef%C3%A4ngnisinsel-lesbos ↩
See report on Monchi on Mare Liberum: https://www.spiegel.de/plus/feine-sahne-fischfilet-ostdeutschland-auf-den-punk-gebracht-a-00000000-0002-0001-0000-000160086114 Video: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1530480907052285 ↩
On October 13, 2018 in Berlin, 242,000 people demonstrated for impartible human rights as part of the #unteilbar demonstration. Thanks you to the CCC for hosting us (https://media.ccc.de/v/35c3-9909-updates_von_der_europaischen_aussengrenze) and thank you to Plus 1! (http://www.taz.de/!5508734/) ↩