My Refugee Journey – 20th March 2016
A VERY SAD DAY FOR HUMANITY…
Well when I woke up this morning I really didn’t think I would witness what I did today, even after the confirmed EU-Turkey Agreement last night. Today started with huge speculation and rumor on many of the Lesvos Volunteer groups and pages. I had already arranged to meet with a member of UNHCR at lunch time so headed out to Kara Tepe. When I got there I was greeted with a postponed meeting and things are going on but couldn’t tell me what.
I decided to stay at the gate getting reports that the Greek officials were going to move every single refugee off the island to a new camp in the north of mainland Greece. A coach was there at the gate but only a couple of people were getting on it, after a couple of hours I left and headed for a bit to eat and catch up on what was going on online. Then there was the barrage of more and more scare talk.
I decided to post a comment saying FACT BEFORE RUMOR, saying that I had heard from a couple of UNHCR sources that yes there was a specially laid on ferry to move as many refugees as possible to the main land but it was a voluntary thing. Contrary to what was circulating on facebook with talk of deportation, doom and gloom!
I then get word that buses are arriving at the port so I race over, reports stated that they had shut the gates and weren’t letting media inside, but once I got there the gates were wide open and a couple of media had arrived just ahead of me, showing yet again how bad rumor and Chinese whispers are here.
But after about 20 minutes of being at the port things start not adding up…
Firstly most of the refugees really believed that they were going to Athens when actually they were being sent to Kavala. Also they were or at least in the main Moria camp told to leave for the port and not asked to leave for the port.
Also I twig that the ferry they are getting on has actually been there for 2 weeks and not moved. Before this ship was in and out of the port like a yo-yo… Then the new camps, when were they built? Not in the last 24hrs, that’s for sure, you start to get thoughts in your head that maybe this day had been planned for a while now… This wasn’t some sort of last minute plan put together which was the word coming from officials, this had been planned, they knew that they were going to be deporting all refugees off the island. I say deporting as although not actual deportation, there is almost zero information coming from authorities, even UNHCR were not to be found at the port and you would have thought they would have been there to make sure the rights of the refugees were being looked after, and as for the Greek government they were not to be seen or heard of!
Not even was there any presence from any NGO based at either Moria or Kara Tepe in any official capacity other than a handful of onlookers. Instead the whole mess at the port was left to a bunch of independent volunteers and a couple of NGOs you normally see at the shore looking out for refugee boats having to answer questions by the media/press and from the refugees themselves!
As for the refugees, after talking to many that had come from Moria they were all confirming they were told to leave and not asked to leave, and that they were under the impression that they were getting on a ferry to Athens and not Kavala, they were not told that if they had an Athens ticket that they had purchased days before that they would have to go into town and get a refund so they could purchase the Kavala ticket, this they were hearing first hand by various volunteers. They were also asking had the borders with Macedonia etc opened, as they all seemed jubilant that they had been finally let on the journey through Europe.
None of the refugees had any idea that they were going to be taken to a new camp in the North of Greece mainland! This was too much to be coincident.
Now under international law, Syrian and Iraqi refugees are protected as official refugees, and can’t be sent back as this would contravene their human rights. However Afghan and Pakistani and other nationalities aren’t covered by this and can be deported back to either Turkey or their country of origin. So what is this sudden move for? What is the reason behind it? There has been several rumours and after today’s events and the silence from any official source seemingly hiding behind closed doors – You have to wonder if the new camps are the one-stop shop to deportation.
All refugees at this new camp will be given the chance to apply for asylum and if rejected will be sent back to Turkey of their country of origin according to sources within the NGO community. This hasn’t been confirmed by UNHCR or Government officials. But with what has gone on today and what I have witnessed I would not dismiss these sources, and especially after the new EU-Turkey agreement.
So what will this mean for the island? Well as of midnight tonight 20th March any boat with refugees arriving on Lesvos will be as usual taken to Moria to be registered and automatically be given papers to apply for asylum, and it will be down to the Greek government alone who stays and who gets deported… My feeling right now, is that everyone will get deported as of the 20th March boats arriving with no hope of asylum.
I’m not a fan of open door policy to Europe and feel things should be done back in Arabic speaking nations, but the way this has all been done today has been a total sham in my eyes.
Tomorrow I will be at Better Days for Moria, where the police Ive been told will be coming to evict all the refugee/migrants and send them to a camp in the north of the island ready for deportation, again an unconfirmed source. Not sure what I will witness at Better Days but I wouldn’t be surprised if this eviction will be heavy handed!
Today has been a very sad day, these refugees are humans, just like you and I, and even though Id rather the crisis be handled in a different manner in the region, it doesn’t stop me feeling sorry for them and disgusted with the way the authorities have dealt with it, with seemingly dirty tricks and lies.