My Refugee Journey – 20th March 2016
Today has ended with UNHCR pulling out transporting migrants/refugees from the shore to Camp Moria due to Moria becoming a detention centre and not a humanitarian centre for refugees. Its just one more tragedy of a day full of tragedy to humanity. Its as if the EU have sold out to Turkey and the ones that lose out are human beings fleeing war and persecution. Seeing the faces of the Pakistani community of Better Days For Moria Camp today was very sad… They knew what was inevitable but still kept a positive face, with smiles and even laughter and playing volleyball occasionally throughout the day.
But if I start at the beginning of the day, it started at a little before 8am… I went to Better Days for Moria to report and document the unknown possible events of the day. Would the Police go in heavy handed and drag people from Better Days and force them into the now Detention Centre Moria? Or would they be given the option of walking in voluntarily?
Its now an hour since I’ve been at the Better Days for Moria Camp and sat looking out over what is now an unofficial registration of all refugees/migrants within Better Days for Moria Camp. The volunteers at the camp with the knowledge that it is going to be inevitable that the Pakistanis on the camp will be forced to go to the Moria Detention Centre across the road decided that the only way they could be sure that every one of the refugees/migrants would have a fair shot at applying for asylum would be to do their own registration and pass on all the details of it to their Human Rights Lawyers due to the total distrust around at present here on the island with the authorities.
Many of the refugees/migrants that are mainly Pakistani and not recognised as refugees by the EU and do not have any papers, documents, passports etc to prove who they are or where they are from. Some didn’t even know their date of birth or even the year they were born in.
As much details are collected along with photos to hand to the Better Days for Morias Lawyers. There are over 600 refugees/migrants in the camp and one way or another they will be inside the Moria Detention Centre within the next 24hrs.
The Moria Camp was once actually a real prison, and so has razor wire fences all the way round and is guarded by Police and the Greek army.
Reports have also come in that the Greek and Turkish Coast Guard as well as the small NATO fleet are also stepping up their game and have flooded the small stretch of the Aegean sea with ships to stop future refugees reaching the island of Lesvos. Turkish Coast Guard have already been seen and filmed using heavy handed tactics to turn back refugee boats to Turkey by not only circling the small unseaworthy refugee boats, but also been filmed trying to burst the inflatables with metal rods.
Its also now being rumoured that maritime law may now be the next victim of this crisis as NATO along with the Greek Coast Guard have been ordered to take all refugees from boats found within Greek territorial waters back to Turkey even though they have reached Greece and therefore as the right of refugees be allowed to seek asylum within Greece.
Its now 2:30pm and the last hour has seen tears from several of the Better Days for Moria volunteers. One of the main volunteers (or certainly one of the more vocal members of the group), a man by the name of Andreas took the stage at lunch to give an announcement that in his words had come collectively from the volunteers and its management. His words were that the Police wanted 150 refugees/migrants at a time to voluntarily walk into the Moria Detention Centre. If this happened the police promised not to come over and forcibly remove the refugees/migrants and take them under force into the Detention Centre.
A group of 98 voluntarily packed their small amount of belongings and made an orderly and very peaceful walk into the Detention Centre. Watching them as they walked in I couldn’t help wonder, do they really know what is going on? I guess going willingly would be better than by force, especially as just 100metres down the road there was a bus full of riot police.
Once the first group of refugees had entered the Detention Centre, the question was what will the police do? They asked for 150 and only got 98… In the end all worries were dropped as the Pakistani community on the Better Days Camp got together and decided to go in tomorrow morning in groups of 50, showing even though their fate was very unlikely to be positive, that they could still show dignity, and that they were the bigger man to the authorities, showing true dignity.
After the first group had gone in it becomes apparent that the speaker Andreas was acting pretty much alone and not from the collective thinking from the group and was told to leave due to his actions which resulted in 98 refugees/migrants walking into the Detention Centre.
I can see where Andreas was coming from, better to go peacefully than be forced by riot police, but I could also see where the rest of the group was coming from also. We were told by Andreas that he had been working with the police for just this inevitability that all the Pakistanis would be rounded up and had made an agreement that all would be registered as entering Lesvos on 18th March, giving them a whole month to apply for asylum. Will this actually happen? We will have to wait and see.
Its now evening and I’ve been chatting with my various sources here on the island and other developments are becoming clear… The current number of refugees still currently on the island is 1300 approximately after around 3000 had left for Kavala in Northern Greece.
The now Moria Detention Centre has 150 refugees, not including the 98 Pakistanis that went in today.
As of 6am today no one was going to be registered coming to the island. Though word is a new registration system will start on Monday.
All shore teams helping any refugee boat coming in are strongly advised to inform all new refugee arrivals to the island to seek asylum as soon as they are inside the Moria Detention Centre.
Kara Tepe Camp has 700 Refugees – though this number again by the end of today could be much lower with a ferry set for Kavala today.
The Greek Ministry had planned to empty the island of Lesvos of all refugees by tonight though this has not happened completely.
To say that the coordination of the Greek authorities and the Ministry was chaos would be an understatement. The authorites have not provided any information to the refugees, and in some cases such as on Moria yesterday were lied to.
Even for the volunteers on the island, information was not forth coming and available for them to pass onto the refugees.
Hellenic Sea Way Ferries have made a large amount of money from just the last 24hrs alone, with refugees/migrants being moved under restrictions now, its unbelievable that they are still being asked to buy a ferry ticket which should now come from the pockets of the authorities.
The refugees that leave for Kavala are being told along with all volunteers and NGOs that they will be sent to open centres in the North of Greece with the guarantee of FREE MOVEMENT!!! This, we find later from a report posted to one of the Lesvos Volunteer WAHTSAPP groups that all refugees that left Lesvos at noon today and arrived in Kavala were met by coaches that instead of taking them to close by open centre, were taken on a 2hr journey west to the Port of Thessaloniki where they were taken to a closed detention centre! The refugees that were on that ferry were all Syrian/Iraqi and under international law should be treated in the correct manner as refugees.
4000 people have been employed by the Greek Government to start processing asylum applications immediately. As of Monday, all new refugee arrivals will be taken directly to Moria and be detained and not allowed to leave the centre. Whilst there they will be allowed to apply for relocation or asylum..
If they get granted asylum they will be free to move on the mainland and will be referred to UNHCR.
If they have their asylum rejected, they will be sent back to Turkey under escort by authorities.
Even back in Turkey Iraqis and Syrians will keep their refugee status.
Even after the agreement between Turkey and the EU was signed, 10 boats came in last night where there were two fatalities. One a man who had a heart attack and another who had been trampled to the bottom of the small boat he was on by accident and had drowned in the water in the bottom of the boat. Sources at the scene stated that there were 78 people on the boat in question.
Currently Greece can hold 25,000 refugees on camps, though there are actually 37,400 refugees in Greece.
Finally to close, with the opening sentence I started todays blog with… I just came back from a Meeting at the location known as the Camp Fire, where UNHCR announced that it would no longer be party to sending refugees to a place of Detention, so leaving the shore teams with just one coach to take refugees from the boats arriving at the shore to the Moria Detention Centre. Refugees are now faced with the real threat of dropping into Hypothermia after a cold and wet boat ride from Turkey and now an unknown wait sat on the shore of Lesvos waiting for a lone coach to take them to Moria.
Today was Tragedy after Tragedy and a dark day for Humanity. The EU have a lot to answer to. Human lives cannot be traded like playing cards for money.
The shore teams along the southern shores of Lesvos worked like heroes, improvising on what can be done in the short term to give comfort to all refugees arriving on the shore of Lesvos while they work out what to do with the transportation issue. The shore teams that I have been witness to a number of times since being on the island have worked long hours in often cold conditions through these winter months and saved more lives than you could imagine, they are true troopers that have adapted to every event along the way.