Early in July, six activists came together to take the 'Mare Liberum 2' on a test mission in the Aegean Sea. Since raids, criminalisation attempts and fascist attacks on the ship 'Mare Liberum 1' in summer 2020, the small grassroots NGO was no longer operational at sea.
The aim of this test mission was to develop a better understanding of the operational challenges and to exchange with protection seekers and solidarity networks (about needs and overlaps) on different islands in the Aegean. Another important aspect was to shed light on the situation on other islands' hotspots, as media interest continues to focus on Moria 2.0. The mission took the team of human rights defenders from Lesvos to Samos to Chios and back to Lesvos.
On the islands, we made it our mission to meet people on the move, local activists, small NGO actors and networks that sustain the criminalisation of migration and solidarity. Among others we met the beautiful 'Project Armonia', that provides food for many vulnerable people, talked with 'Salvamento Maritimo Humanitario' about their medical support in Chios and with the 'Hope Project' about their art space for people stuck on Lesvos. We met legal networks and advisors from 'Equal Rights Beyond Borders', 'Refugee Law Clinic', the 'Human Rights Legal Project'. We visited 'Glocal Roots' safe space for woman 'We Are One Center Samos' and the founders of the wonderful 'Stop Pushbacks Campaign'.
We made friends who are stuck on islands, such as Shaker, whose story we published some weeks ago and Ahmad, a videographer and photographer working with the children in Camp Vathy. Many friends we met are stuck in the limbo of lengthy asylum procedures, often for years – a draining process that steals lifetime from people, overlying all dreams and perspectives.
What stood out was the very contrasting solidarity infrastructure on the islands. While we see many NGOs in the centre of Samos, there are almost none on Chios. But why? We believe a crucial aspect is proximity in daily life. While on Samos the camp is right next to the town centre of Vathy, on Chios people are locked up in camp Vial far away from the centre. Out of sight, out of mind, out of interaction. This is a frightening picture, especially in light of the fact that in the past year the European Union invested 270 million euros in building new hotspot camps on Samos, Leros, Kos, Chios and Lesvos. New camps that will be even more isolated, closed and farther away from cities.
During our mission, about 100 people arrived on the Aegean Islands, while about 500 people were illegally pushed back to Turkish waters. We were also informed about people hiding in the forests because of fear to being pushed back after arriving on Greek soil. Reasonable fear, as we know it has become common practice to force people back in liferafts to drag them back to Turkish territory – violating fundamental rights while Europe just celebrated 70 years of the Geneva Refugee Convention.
On the way between the islands we encountered numerous patrol vessels of the Greek and Turkish authorities as well as Frontex. The militarisation of Europe's external border is constantly visible and characterises the atmosphere on the Aegean islands and at sea. The expansion of the new, closed camps, the daily pushbacks and the increasing criminalisation of migration are highly alarming. Even more so we are very glad to have met so many people, who demand their rights or stand together in solidarity – joining us in confronting Fortress Europe.