Hotspots in Griechenland: Vorboten der neuen EU-Migrationspolitik?

Veranstaltung zur Situation im Flüchtlingslager Moria und der Verfolgung von Helfer*innen in der Ägäis

Die Flüchtlingspolitik der Europäischen Union setzt auf Abschreckung und Abschottung. Zur Festung Europa gehören sogenannte Hotspots in Italien und Griechenland, wo Asylverfahren im Eilverfahren abgeschlossen werden. Daran ist auch das Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge beteiligt. Können Betroffene keinen Schutz geltend machen, sollen sie mithilfe des EU-Türkei-Deals abgeschoben werden. Seit 2015 überschritten mehr als 1,1 Millionen Menschen die türkisch-griechischen Seegrenzen. Allein auf den Inseln in der Ostägäis sollen sich 18.400 Geflüchtete befinden. Ihre Unterbringung und Versorgung bleibt katastrophal. Auch Helfer*innen werden kriminalisiert. Mit der Festnahme von Seán Binder, Sarah Mardini, Nassos Karakitsos erhielt diese Repression kürzlich eine internationale Aufmerksamkeit.

Montag, 8. Oktober, 19.30 Uhr
Galerie Vierte Welt, Adalbertstraße 4, Kreuzberg
(Zugang über die Außentreppe zum Café Kotti in der Adalbertstraße 96), U-Bhf Kottbusser Tor

Die Hotspots könnten zum Vorbild für „kontrollierte Zentren“ werden, die in einigen EU-Mitgliedstaaten geplant sind. Dorthin würden Schutzsuchende gebracht, die auf Hoher See gerettet werden. Ist ihr Asylantrag abgelehnt, würden sie in EU-Lager abgeschoben, die in Libyen, Tunesien und Marokko entstehen sollen.

Salam Aldeen, Team Humanity, Dänemark. Stand wegen „Menschenschmuggels“ auf Lesbos vor Gericht und wurde freigesprochen.

Nina Gassmann, Mare Liberum e.V. Der Berliner Verein übernahm das Rettungsschiff „Sea-Watch 1“ und beobachtet Fluchten über die Ägäis.

Robert Nestler, Refugee Law Clinics Abroad. Die Organisation versorgt Schutzsuchende im Hotspot auf Chios mit Rechtsinformationen.

Veranstaltet vom Institut für Bürgerrechte & öffentliche Sicherheit e.V./ Zeitschrift Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP

Hier der Flyer zur Veranstaltung.

Der Beitrag von Salam Aldeen:

Thank you for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to tell my story. My name is Salam Aldeen and three years ago, my life changed entirely after I saw the picture of Alan Kurdi on the news, the three-year-old Syrian refugee who had died trying to reach safety in Greece. I am sure you all will remember the picture of his lifeless body washed up on a Turkish shore.

I saw his picture in the news on the 3rd of September 2015. Back then, I had an ordinary life; I had a job, a home, family and friends. The picture of Aylan Kurdi played on my mind for days, and left me thinking how could the world so easily dismiss his death? The death of an innocent child… he had committed no crime other than having a family that wanted to give him a better chance at life, and to avoid growing up in a war zone. Coming from a refugee background myself, I could relate to Alan. I was born in Moldava to an Iraqi father and Moldavian mother. When I was 9 years old, we had to flee Moldava because of the civil war. We had a long and rough journey through many countries before we reached our final destination, Denmark, where we received refugee status. Alan’s photo pricked my conscience and became a call to action. We cannot longer afford to ignore this injustice. (what is happening). I had to do something. So, 2 days after I saw the picture, I went to Greece for 1 week to help. 3 hours after I landed on Lesvos airport, I was already swimming to refugee boats that were stuck a few hundreds meters away from the coast and rescuing men, women, children and small newborn baby’s. I didn’t understand what was happening, I was in shock. I didn’t see big organizations, just a few volunteers giving water and bananas. That week changed my life completely. I returned to Denmark, spoke with friends and 3 days later almost 30 people in 3 vans where on the way to Lesvos Island for the sake of humanity. This is how we founded our NGO, Team Humanity and we have provided humanitarian aid in Greece ever since.

I’ve been asked to speak about the humanitarian situation in the EU hotspots in Greece, which I can describe in one word as ‘catastrophic’. The past three years, I’ve been working mainly on Lesvos so I will focus on Moria refugee camp, the registration and identification center of the island. Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, life in Moria refugee camp is extremely challenging and the desperate living conditions do not meet humanitarian standards. Currently, over 8600 people are crammed into a space which, according to the Greek Ministry of Interior , is designed to host 3100 – that is about triple its capacity. The majority of those people are fleeing war, persecution and danger in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo and other countries. In Moria, they make their claims for asylum, but the asylum process is painfully slow. Some people have been stuck in Moria for almost two years now and the hopeless waiting in reception conditions is disastrous.

Geographical restrictions and deteriorating conditions in the camp have created a vicious cycle for its residents. In September, 2200 people were transferred from Lesvos to the Greek mainland, but boats continue to arrive every day.  The number of new arrivals for September was 1900, only reducing the total population by 300 people. Thus, government efforts have little effect. To a large degree, the geographical restriction contribute to the dire conditions that refugees face on the islands’ main governmental facilities. Slow asylum procedures and constant arrivals mean that not everyone can live inside the hotspots. Because of the limited space, people, including women and children, are forced to sleep outside the camp in the forest without protection and thus higher exposure to risks. Or if they do manage to get a spot in the camp, they are crammed in tents or small containers. In Moria, it has now reached a point that up to five families are crammed into a single container, that is 25 people. Children are getting sick again and again because they don’t get enough fresh air. And there are still people sleeping in thin tents outside. With winter on its way, this is a disaster. Rain soaks through the tents and temperatures reach freezing points. Children don’t have jackets or proper shoes, and have to brave the cold. Sometimes people light a fire in their tents to try keep warm, which has led to accidents that killed three people in Moria last year. The protected sections for vulnerable people are full. That means that, for over one month now, 70 unaccompanied minors are forced to sleep in the new arrivals hall. Newly arrived single women must now find a place somewhere in the open and risk sexual violence every night, a constant fear adding to their trauma.

This containment policy is destroying people’s mental health and their future. Food lines are endless and tense, water supply is limited. In Moria, each person gets 1.5 liters of water a day, with which they are expected to cook and stay hydrated. You must get up at 4 in the morning to ensure that you will receive this water, which is distributed between 8 and 8:30. If you miss that window, you miss the water. The same applies for getting your food. Three times a day, you are required to stand at least 3 hours in line, to collect non-nutritious food, often not without insects. For breakfast, people are given just one dry chocolate croissant, those wrapped in plastic. No attention is paid to special diets, such as diabetes or high cholesterol. As bad as the food is, it often runs out. Tensions are high and fights break out constantly. After a riot broke out recently, MSF treated 20 people suffering from panic attacks as well as a six month-old baby who suffered from tear gas inflammation. Violence, theft and rape are constant threats.

The overcrowded areas increase the high risk of disease transmission. The washroom facilities are inadequate; 84 people are expected to share one shower, 72 people must share one toilet. Parents can’t keep their children clean and healthy like this. Garbage bins are overflowing and the sanitary conditions do not uphold humanitarian standards; the showers have windows which means people can look inside and there is no privacy. The sewage system does not work and filthy toilet water with feces reaches the tents where children sleep. Women are afraid to use the toilets and showers on their own; reports of sexual violence and abuse are on the rise.

Medical services are limited and under-resourced. Health care NGO’s have submitted all paperwork needed to lift the geographical restriction for medically based emergency transfers to KEELPNO, the Greek public health organization responsible for responding to the crisis, but so far no single patient has been transferred. There is hardly any psychological support. Insufficient social and medical support increases feelings of neglect and frustrations amongst the residents.

An MSF report published end of August 2018 revealed that children as young as 10 are attempting suicide and there are no child psychologists on the island. Efforts to move vulnerable children to Athens have been unfruitful. Children make for 30% of the population of Moria, 7 out of 10 children are under 12 years old and about 17% are unaccompanied or separated children. These thousands of children witness it all; the fights, riots, tensions and stress. They watch their parents break down, they stand in line for food and water, they get respiratory diseases from tear gas fired by the Greek police to end fighting. They should be inside classrooms.

Luca Fontana, the MSF Coordinator on the island, who has served in various countries across Africa, described Moria as ‘the worst refugee camp on earth.’ The conditions in the camp, exposure to violence, and the fear of being sent back to Turkey not only bring out people’s traumatic experiences, but also create new trauma, which deteriorates their mental health. Just a few weeks ago, a man sat in front of the main gate that leads to the protected area with facilities, cutting his chest multiple times deeply with a sharp blade. Police and army officers were present, but camp residents  responded and removed the blade, so that the medical team could respond. Children witnessed it all. Such events are not sparse.

There is no excuse for the shameful conditions in which thousands of people remain trapped waiting their asylum claims. The deteriorating conditions on the Greek islands can be characterised as a humanitarian disaster taking place on the shores of Europe. The conditions are now worse than ever and call for sustainable solutions. The Greek authorities must take immediate action to ensure that refugees benefit from full access to their basic rights and that they are accommodated in dignified conditions, in accordance with national and international law. Transferring people to the mainland and relocating them to other member states should decrease the pressure on the overcrowded camps, which is urgently needed. Member states share responsibility, Greece can not handle this crisis alone.

What is happening in Greece since 2015 has been characterized as a refugee crisis. Given the EU’s response to it, with the EU-Turkey deal as its model migration policy, I would argue that there is a solidarity crisis. If we continue on this foot, it will lead to even more suffering for those who have no other option but to flee.

At the same time, and this brings me to the second part of my talk today, NGOs and humanitarian volunteers are witnessing difficulties in their operations. Recently, two volunteers got arrested on Lesvos on the accusation of trying to help migrants enter Greece illegally. They did nothing wrong, they want to help people out of idealism. One of them is Sarah Mardini, who you might remember as the Syrian refugee who almost drowned back in 2015 after she boarded a dinghy that was meant to carry not more than 6 people with 20 others. As the boat started to sink, Sarah and her sister Yusra jumped into the cold sea and kept the boat on course, swimming for more than three hours to Lesvos. Everyone in the boat survived, thanks to them. Her friend and colleague Sean Binder is a fresh London School of Economics graduate who dedicated months of his life to helping people in need. His father was a Vietnamese refugee who fled to Germany after the Vietnam War. Sean’s aspiration in life was ‘to make the world a better place, to do his bit.’ Sarah and Sean deny all charges. Yet, they are kept in Greek prison for almost two months now. Sarah in Athens and Sean on the Greek island of Chios, after spending nearly 30 days in a jail station in Lesbos, without being allowed out – without even seeing daylight during that time. According to Greek law, they might have to face up to 18 months of detainment before they can argue for their innocence in court.

On the 14th of January 2016, I was arrested myself with 4 other lifeguards and falsely accused of human smuggling without any evidence proving it. I spent 48 hours in jail; it makes my stomach turn to think about the 8 refugees who died that day because we were sitting in jail and there was no other rescue boat in the sea. How the authorities could have better used their power to save lives rather than attempting to ruin them.

We asked to speak with our embassies, but the authorities refused. Then, we were asked to enter the interrogation room, where the officers couldn’t speak any English. They brought us a paper to sign, but we replied that we would not sign anything without consulting our lawyer. From what I later understood, the paper stated that we were in Turkey smuggling people to Greece and we had refugees in our boat, while we had been on Greek waters without any refugee on board.

After spending 48 hours in jail, we each had to pay bail in order to be released. My bail was set at 10.000 euros. After my release, I was not allowed to leave Greece for one year and 8 months. In the meantime, I continued my humanitarian efforts on a variety of projects all around Greece, providing displaced persons with food, clothing, shelter, and other humanitarian aid.

And then on the 10 of August 2017, after 1 year and 8 months, I was allowed to leave Greece and return to my family. But the issue still remained that I would be facing my trial 9 months later, on the 7th of May 2018. Despite their preposterous claims, for 9 long months, my life was on hold because I was facing lifetime in jail. I lost everything, And who would employ me with a lifelong sentence above my head? Lifetime in jail for what? Saving lives, saving children from drowning?

Civil society has always been the first responder to humanitarian emergencies. For decades, fishermen, lawyers and people living across the south European coast have been rescuing and supporting refugees and migrants, replacing the often non-existent government structure. I continue witnessing every day that Greece is incapable of handling the crisis on its own. Alarming developments such as the arrest of Sarah and Sean, indicate that a strain is placed on civil society, painting a bleak picture for human rights protection.

Ladies and gentlemen, I see the world around us crying for help… and if others wont respond to the cries then I implore you to help humanitarians like Sarah and Sean. I believe in humanity and I believe there is a lot of humanity in this room here today, which is why I urge you to put yourself in our position and think… what would you do if you were being accused of something that completely goes against what you stand for…

I was cleared of charges and did not spend the rest of my days behind bars over a fictitious claim, but the fact remains that people are still facing serious accusations merely for helping people in need. It’s an international obligation to exempt humanitarian assistance from punishment. In order to ensure fundamental human rights, the emphasis in law and policy should be placed on rescuing people in distress at sea and improving reception conditions, and NGOs and independent volunteers should be protected from penalization.

Volunteers are needed to fill in the gap left by governments, who have proved to be incapable of handling the crisis alone. Because of criminalization, the recognition of volunteer work decreases and the act of solidarity loses value. Practicing solidarity with those in need of international protection should not be a crime and should be institutionally and socially encouraged. Criminalization creates fear and people do not want to risk legal penalties while offering their time and resources to help others in need.

The EU needs to reform its existing legislation and enact a comprehensive asylum and immigration policy. But that doesn’t happen overnight, and turning a blind eye to those drowning in the meantime is not an appropriate response. In fact, that would be illegal: under international law, any boat within reach of another in distress has an obligation to help, regardless of that boat’s flag or where it is sinking. Failure to do so is a crime of omission. A permanent solution is needed, a reform, which includes ensuring that solidarity is not a crime and undocumented refugees and migrants are ensured their basic rights.

I urge you, who have the power to change things, to take immediate action. Europe’s insistence on the fortification of its border regime has led to a securitisation of the migration narrative, that sees those who seek refuge as a threat. The majority of refugees who are currently in Greece, however, have fled from neverending conflicts and oppressive regimes. When they arrive in Greece, they are stripped of their dignity and face Europe’s inability to adopt humanitarian migration policies. It is possible to guarantee a dignified life for all and Germany can take the lead in contributing to sustainable solutions for the sake of humanity.

Ladies and gentlemen … I humble myself as I stand before you here today. I want to thank every single volunteer who made sacrifices for the sake of others.  Without them an even bigger collapse would have happened in Europe.

Thank you

Bild: ECCHR.

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