Refugees riot as tensions in Greek camps boil over

Refugees riot as tensions in Greek camps boil over
The pressure building on refugees stuck on Greek islands was bound to show eventually, reports Mohammed Harun Arsalai.
4 min read
11 July, 2017
Huge fires prevented security officials from entering the camp and carrying out further deportations [Twitter/@UnitedRescueAid]

Refugees clashed with police and security at Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesvos on Monday night as frustration and anger spread turned into open clashes.

Riots broke out after detained refugees were informed that they would be returned to Turkey, said Moria village president Nikos Trakellis. 

Social media footage from activists on the island shows dozens of refugees throwing stones and building barricades to keep authorities from penetrating the camp, as fires reached at least two container buildings at the front of the camp.

To those who have spent time on the island, the latest riot doesn't come as a shock.

Maqboul Sidiqi, a Lesvos refugee activist and a former refugee himself, told The New Arab the island had became "like Guantanamo".

"The refugees are stressed - they are imprisoned by the EU and they are oppressed, so its normal that people want freedom and will break their chains."

In-depth: Desperate conditions inside Greece's migration jails, despite promises of reform

More than 14,000 migrants are still stuck on Lesbos and other Greek islands and are not allowed to leave the island for the country's mainland.

In recent days, Greek authorities have been accused of rounding up asylum seekers on Lesvos island based solely on nationality.

The camp is still not a good place for many - it is crowded, families are held with single men and the recent string of [asylum] rejections have led to unrest

Greek authorities are abusing the rights of asylum seekers stuck on Lesvos, said Lorraine Leete of Legal Centre Lesbos, an international legal aid organisation.

"Rights are being systematically violated in Lesvos," she said.

"Indiscriminate administrative detention also violates the procedural requirements of EU and Greek law, which explicitly prohibit holding people in detention for the sole reason that they have applied for international protection."

The Legal Centre Lesbos statement was released in support of hunger strikers at Moria camp who were arrested on Lesvos and detained in Moria camp - even though the European Court of Human Rights accepted their appeal not to be sent back to Turkey.

In-depth: Abandoned refugees will eventually leave Greece, legally or illegally

Ariel Ricker of the group Advocates Abroad who works as a lawyer for refugees on Lesvos told The New Arab that although many changes had been made to Moria, "the camp is still not a good place for many - it is crowded, families are held with single men and the recent string of [asylum] rejections have led to unrest".

In January, Human Rights Watch released a report alleging negligence in Greek islands' handling of refugee camps in the dead of winter. Many refugees had to survive freezing conditions in "flimsy tents". Many refugees didn't survive.

"There are men but also women in the tents," HRW reported one refugee saying. "With the snow, I thought I would die of the cold. My tent was covered in snow and you couldn't see its surface." 

The EU-Turkey deal that allows for the return of failed asylum seekers has been widely criticised by human rights groups. Amnesty International has called the deal reckless and even "illegal".

The deal, much like the EU-Afghanistan "Joint Way Forward" deal, works off the pretext that both Turkey and Afghanistan are "safe" to deport rejected asylum seekers to. In the case of Afghanistan, this is clearly a laughable assertion as all reports indicate a worsening security situation. 

The majority recorded that they fled persecution, war, famine, and personal insecurity

Just last month horrifying videos were shared on social media showing violent mob attacks against Afghan and Syrian refugees in Istanbul. The violent images elicited an online outcry and demands for the Turkish state to step in for the security of the refugees.

In-depth: Refugee children marginalised in Greek schools

The EU's dominant narrative - that those fleeing many areas are not refugees, but "economic migrants" - is absolutely false, report researchers at the University of Middlesex.

"The majority recorded that they fled persecution, war, famine, and personal insecurity," the academics note in their report Mapping Refugee Reception in the Mediterranean.

The deterioration of facilities on Greek islands has slowed from a year ago but has not stopped. 

"When I was there some days ago, I could not look into the eyes of refugees. I was feeling like I do nothing for them," Maqboul Sidiqi says. "It hurts to see humans being treated in that way - the whole condition in Lesvos is guiding the refugees towards suicidal thoughts."

Mohammed Harun Arsalai is an independent journalist and political activist from the Bay Area of California, and co-founder of the independent media project, Documenting Afghanistan. Currently based in his native Afghanistan, Mohammed's recent work focuses on refugees, the War on Terror, and militant groups operating inside Afghanistan. 

Follow him on Twitter: @ArsalaiH