Is Greece transforming Moria into a closed camp?

While for several weeks now pushbacks and dangerous standoffs at sea became the common practice in the Aegean to prevent migrants from reaching Greece, we witness that at the same time there are many efforts to ‘empty the island’ and push refugees to leave. This very chaotic and disorganized practice disrespects the human beings behind the ID-papers.

At the beginning of the year there has been a change in law so that now migrants are only given one month instead of six to leave governmental housing programs, ESTIA, when they received a positive asylum answer. Thus, now refugees are warned only one month before their eviction date and the end of all financial support. We know of cases were people were given even less than 30 days. A group of refugees housed in the section for vulnerable people inside Moria were informed on June 3 that they had to leave the camp by June 10. Other migrants told us that people managing the RIC (Reception and Identification Centres) come to their tent daily to push them to finally leave the facility – even just a few days after they received a positive asylum notice and before they received the stamp in their ID-papers which is needed to board the ferries to the mainland. 30 days or often much less to leave and organize everything for a life outside of the camp: register in Greece and get a tax number (AFM), and thereby find a job, find a place to live and so on. Often, refugees have been forced to live in the hotspot camp for months, without the right to move freely nor choose where to sleep, with whom to share a tent, what and when to eat. Now, having to set up a living in Greece within one month often becomes an impossible challenge. We fear that with this new policy more people will become homeless.

A woman testified that for her this pressure was just one blow among too many already. In spite of obtaining international protection, after all these months of suffering, violence and fear in Moria, she decided to end her life. Her friends intervened in time and she spend four days in the hospital to recover. Today she is crying by the thought of leaving for Athens: no time to prepare, nowhere to stay, the loss of the few but close friends and support structures here on the island, another jump into the unknown without any social anchor.

We witness a situation in which migrants who finally receive a positive asylum notice and thereby international protection, are given less time to settle in their new life. At the same time, the European Asylum Office (EASO) resumed their work after the Corona-lockdown and celebrated their reopening by issuing thousands of rejections and second-rejections. Normally, after a second-rejections migrants are being deported but now, Greece is issuing papers that give the receivers ten days to leave Greece. Besides, we heard of many people who were granted asylum, even before they have had their asylum-interviews. We welcome the latter development of accelerated procedures because they mean that refugees can leave the hell of Moria and the islands they have been trapped in for months. There is no official policy change in EASO but it seems that there have been clear orders to issue papers to push people to leave the islands.

On the other hand, people are being pushed out of their housing situation and are simply forced to board the ferries to the mainland without having a plan on what will happen to them afterwards. There are no jobs, no housing, but due to the Dublin-regulations, refugees are forced to stay in Greece. In the past weeks we witnessed long waiting lines at the ferry port in Mytilene. People of color had to wait in a separate waiting line, we witnessed police violence against refugees trying to get a seat on the ferry. Journalists or activists were prohibited from documenting these scenes of chaos and violence.

Finally, refugees are being granted international protection – but this is only protection on paper. This paper does not open any door to safety, rather it opens the door only so little, that people can pass through. For many of the refugees who are now forced to leave towards Athens without a plan on where to stay there, it would be a better solution to find a place to live on Lesvos. The island is full of empty houses and flats but many landlords don’t want to rent out to refugees or NGOs. While the unemployment rate on Lesvos is at 18%, the refusal to rent to foreigners seems to be stronger than the need of a source of income.

We are afraid that this is an attempt of ‘emptying’ the jungle of Moria, moving people back into the hotspot facility to then be able to transform Moria into a closed camp. For those who are finally given a positive asylum notice, the situation does not improve, but rather gets harder. Basically, the problem is only shifted to mainland Greece: many migrants stranded in downtown Athens, on Victoria Square, and were then again forced into camps, as there are no better solutions for them. The Greek state does not provide for the people now on the mainland anymore and thereby pushes them to leave the country by any means. Still, the borders to the Balkan countries are sealed off and it’s costly and dangerous to clandestinely pass through. People who make it are often violently pushed back at the borders to Croatia and then strand once again in border areas.

Greece is violently pushing those who try to seek safety in Europe back by any means – on the land border and at sea, then is pushing those that are already here out of the country by issuing ID-papers in large numbers and those who stay behind might be detained in closed camps.

To solve the issue, people should be able to leave Greece, and move freely to places where they want to stay and can actually settle and start a new life after months and years of waiting at the borders of Europe. Abolish the Dublin-System! For the Freedom of Movement!

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