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A month of uncertainty

Migrants on the north shore of Lesvos, Greece

29.4.2020

On the evenings of the 22nd and 23rd of March and the 1st of April around 130 people arrived on the northern shores of the island of Lesbos. They were finally transferred to the first arrival area in the hotspot Moria on the 27th of April.

For some of them, it was over a month of uncertainty under very difficult conditions. They were arbitrarily detained without the possibility of claiming their right to asylum. The police continued to stand guard even after the established quarantine time of two weeks. The migrants were not allowed to leave and no one else was allowed to enter their provisional camps. People who wanted to offer support by providing health and safety equipment, or even just to visit and monitor the situation, were harassed by the police. Two of our crew members, who went to the provisional camp to deliver masks, were fined for violating the Corona law. Furthermore, their passports were taken away – even though they were obviously “helping people in need”.

Migrants are being deprived of their rights and supporters are being criminalized while the rest of the world is calling for solidarity in the face of this pandemic.

Held in three different locations (a port, a beach and a dirt-road), the people were provided with the bare minimum needed to survive. In one of these locations, 56 people were being held at a customs port, with no proper tents, toilets or showers. They have been forced to use the rocks of the port to relieve themselves and had to beg for extra water to clean themselves. The flimsy tents that were provided to them were not appropriate for the harsh rains of the season, leaving people to sleep between cold, soaked blankets.

The other locations equally under-resourced. Another group of mirgants were forced to sleep on a rocky dirt road next to a chapel, while constantly under police surveillance. The only support available is provided by civil society organisations as well as an inefficient UNHCR which has not been able to properly manage the medical cases in the camps. In one of the camps, a woman reported having been a victim of police violence and yet no measures were taken by the authorities to protect her physical integrity. The initial information given to the migrants was that they would be held there in quarantine for fourteen days. After that period ended, it was unclear what would happen to them and they received contradictory information. Each day they were told a different transfer date and destination, almost as a means of torturing them by leading them to think that this nightmare will be over in the next few days, and yet it never was.

In all three camps, a high number of vulnerable cases, such as unaccompanied minors and pregnant women did not receive any special protection or access to sufficient healthcare. After waiting for three weeks, they had been given the contact details of lawyers but no SIM cards or other means of communication were provided. Their mental health was deteriorating quickly, because of the uncertainty of their fate. They became more and more untenable and although they asked, no psychologists were provided.

One of the migrants reported:

“We do not have toilets to serve our needs and we do not have a bathroom to shower. We are in this condition for over a month. We live a primitive life, like before the stone age. We came here looking for humanity, unfortunately we are forced to live here. Until now we don’t know our fate. We do not know what will happen to us. They did not give us any paperwork, and did not conduct interviews for the asylum procedure.”

All the while, the Greek government and the local authorities continued to watch the migrants, who are their legal responsibility, endure an immense amount of suffering and did nothing. The Greek government, as well as the EU and UNHCR failed to uphold the most basic human rights such as legal support, the right to see a doctor, or even the preservation of human dignity by giving access to a toilet. The already drastic situation was further exacerbated by policies that prevent the civil society, from being able to support the people in the camps. The creation of closed camps, which is set as a policy goal by the Greek government, is an example of such policies where they are using the pandemic as an excuse to avoid transparency, hinder human rights monitoring, and set a precedent for the strict isolation of migrants. The authorities claimed that the people held in these makeshift camps were “like prisoners” and therefore access was restricted, without any legal base for such claims.

Now, these people have been transferred to the hotspot Moria for preliminary registration. While Moria itself is also an unbearable place to live, the possibility that migrants will be transferred to closed facilities on the mainland seems even worse.

We are aware that the horrible situation on the Aegean islands has been created by the European Union and its policies which put tremendous pressure on locals as well as on the Greek officials. The stance of international actors such as the UN is also unforgivable and we urge them to improve their performance and to live up to their obligations. However, there is no excuse for such grave violations of Human Rights to happen nor for the degrading and inhuman treatment towards migrants by the Greek authorities.