Update at the borders 5.4.2016

By Are You Syrious?

#‎GENERAL‬: On Wednesday interior ministers of Germany, Austria and Switzerland met in Vienna to talk about refugees and terrorism. German interior minister Thomas de Maizière suggested to make a deal with North African countries as EU did with Turkey. “The method is right”, he said, meaning deporting illegal migrants and for that taking equal amount of ‘legal’. He didn’t mention countries to collaborate with, but said a deal with them would be “unequally difficult”. The ministers are now focused on two alternative routes: Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner explained the East Balkan Route (Turkey-Bulgaria) has a potential of 1.1 million migrants, the Mediterranean Route 300.000. She also underlined to support Greece and possible in future affected country, obviously referring to Bulgaria and Romania. To the closing of the Balkan-Route de Maizière said it’s done. “And we are in complete agreement that it needs to remain done.”

#‎LIBYA‬: At least five African migrants are dead and 15 injured, some of them seriously after guards at a detention in the coastal town of ‪#‎Zawiya‬ (who form part of the Al Nasser Militia) opened fire during a mass escape early on Saturday morning.

‪#‎TURKEY‬: The agreement between the EU and Turkey, signed on March 18, paved the way for the return of refugees from Greece to Turkey, where they may be able to get international protection according to the EU. According to Amnesty, since January, Turkey has expelled groups of around 100 Syrians from the southern border provinces of Turkey to Syria. This has been happening on a daily basis, and includes families, women and children. Amnesty did not provide precise numbers about mass returns of Syrian refugees to Syria. “All forced returns to Syria are illegal under Turkish, EU and international law,” Amnesty International emphasised in the report. Further, “the large-scale returns of Syrian refugees we have documented highlight the fatal flaws in the EU-Turkey deal” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia. According to Amnesty, there is a risk that some of the people the EU will send back from Greece to Turkey could be also sent back to Syria. Amnesty International (AI) report shows that Turkey may be not considered a ‘safe country’ for refugees, including Syrians.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said 78 Syrian refugees had been sent to Europe to their new homes. Some 32 Syrians were sent to Germany as 11 Syrians went to Finland on April, while 31 Syrians were sent to the Netherlands on April 5, according to figures.

Prices for the Turkey-Greece sea crossing dropped with the EU-Turkey deal from 600€-800€ to 500€. Wirtschaftswoche quoted a smuggler saying, “Some colleagues are trying to convince the most stupid and desperate people to ferry across the sea.” Lesser number of refugees are coming to Turkey now, as the prices for crossing the border into Turkey are now being more expensive than the sea crossing. Fake IDs are now being increasingly requested by refugees, so they could go by plane. Price is 6,000€-8,000€; for tickets to UK even double that. Smugglers are also preparing the route from Turkey to Italy now. “They will use big ships not small rubber boats”, smuggler said. Price is 2,500€.

Two deported refugees, Pakistanis who arrived yesterday in Turkey “inaugurating” the agreement between the European Union and Turkey attempted suicide when they arrived in current center for returnees. The reason for that was attempted and requested political asylum, for which their application was rejected immediately. One of them passed away later at a Turkish hospital.

Big complex for Syrian refugees built with EU financing should be opened on April 16th in ‪#‎Kilis‬ (south-east Turkey).

‪#‎GREECE‬: According to the Government sources, at 8am there were 52, 352 refugees stranded in Greece. There were 5,984 people stranded on the islands – 3,149 on Lesvos, 751 on Samos, 1,776 on Chios, 93 on Leros, 72 on Kos, 81 on Rodos, 15 on Kalymnos and 47 on Kastellorizo.The Government reports 14,506 in Attica – 1,950 in Schisto, 1,502 in Eleonas, 1,150 in Elleniko Baseball camp, 1,440 in Elleniko Hockey camp, 1,612 at the Elleniko Terminal, 120 in Agios Andreas, 1,115 in Malakasa, 400 in Lavrio agrotiki camp, 456 in Lavrio asylum centre and 4,761 in Piraeus. Further, there is 2,542 people in Central Greece – 856 in Ritsona, 290 in Thermopylae and 1,396 in Koutsochero, and 340 in Southern Greece in Kyllini Andravidas. Finally, the Government reports 28,980 in Northern Greece – 11,280 in Idomeni, 2,265 in Diavata, 382 in Thessaloniki (port), 3,900 in Cherso, 1,264 in EKO-Polykastro, 3,543 in Nea Kavala, 202 in Eleftheroupoli, 750 in Nea Karvali, 479 in Drama, 223 in Kozani, 171 in Konitsa, 151 in Paralia Skotinas, 400 in Nireas (Kalivia Varikou), 291 in Nea Chrani, 164 in Ktima Irakli, 669 in Filippiada, 201 in Doliana, 1,117 in Katsikas, 837 in Giannitsa, 307 in Alexandria and 384 in Veria (Kokkinou camp). Number of new arrivals on the islands in 24h period until 07:30am was 225, of which 187 on Lesvos, 20 on Samos and 18 on Kastellorizo. Significant free spaces according to official capacity: Leros 900, Elleniko Baseball 150, Ritsona 140, Thermopylae 110, Koutsochero 100, Diavata 230, Nea Kavala 460, Nea Karvali 250, Kozani 180, Nea Chrani 110, Doliana 200, Katsikas 380, Alexandria 890.

Pakistani refugees at ‪#‎Lesvos‬ told volunteers that police were arresting all Pakistani refugees, even those who claimed an asylum. Thus, refugees were protesting at ‪#‎Moria‬. At ‪#‎Chios‬, there are rumours about the deportations of refugees despite the fact that they claimed they wanted to claim asylum. Also, from several cases, volunteers got the impression that the deportations happen in a super-arbitrary way. Twice, volunteers claim, refugees almost got deported because they were standing “in the wrong crowd.” Finally, Vincent Cochetel, director of UNHCR’s Europe bureau, said on Tuesday that 13 Afghans and Congolese asylum seekers who reached the Greek island of Chios after 20 March, and who were deported back to Turkey on Monday, had not been allowed to formally register their asylum claims due to administrative chaos on the island.

On the applications people fill out at ‪#‎Vial‬, there is two questions in the same column:
“Do you want to apply for asylum yes / no?”
“Do you want to go back to Turkey yes / no?”
This is suggesting a choice. Volunteers talked to refugees who had answered no to both questions, which is a problem the EU-Turkey deal doesn’t account for. Moreover, while on Monday 202 refugees were deported to Turkey, 225 arrived on Greek islands from Turkey.

The Greek Asylum Service is being overwhelmed by thousands of applications every day, it said on Tuesday, admitting that it is unable to handle the volume and is considering emergency measures to speed up the process. The Greek Parliament adopted last week the Law 4375/2016, which introduces several changes in the asylum and first reception procedures. The law came in force on April 3rd.
The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) yesterday published a legal analysis of the new law, which you can see at the following link: http://bit.ly/1qq4ZLY

On the other hand, Greece has postponed the return of the next group of migrants to Turkey under a deal with the European Union until Friday, a Turkish government official said on Tuesday, with no other deportees expected before then.

After 2 days of “occupation”, Greek police have erected a fence in Chios port squeezing refugees who refuse to move on one side and leaving majority of the port free so ferries may dock again.

On ‪#‎Samos‬ things have changed drastically in last weeks. Refugees are now being taken to a closed camp the minute they arrive to the island. Many of the big NGOs have pulled out of the camp because they do not agree with the fact that the refugees are being kept locked up under prison like conditions. Friendly Humans Samos are one of the rare organizations that remain. In the past, their main focus was making sure the refugees had breakfast every morning. As they are now locked in the camp, the food is the army’s responsibility. Thus, they have decided, among other things, to focus on the unattended minors in the camp. They have been able to provide cake, crisps and soft drinks to the minors last week, so they could celebrate three birthdays. Furthermore, they support a young Syrian mother with two small children, who has applied for asylum here in Greece and now lives in a small rented studio. Unfortunately, the system does not provide for her, so they do what they can to help her. They have also provided food for small groups of people stranded outside the camp with no access to food. As for the work within the camp, they are distributing clothes and other necessities as they did at the port, talk to the refugees and play with the children. Please continue to support them, so they can continue their work at Samos.

In Greece, the work is being done to set up many new camps. Every couple of days, a new camp opens. The new camps are placed in order to replace the older ones. The first cleanout will probably be ‪#‎Piraeus‬. The numbers of refugees in Piraeus port continues to sit just under the 5,000 mark, with approximately 100 refugees returning on site this morning from a camp they were taken to yesterday, due to lack of support and bad conditions. Many refugees who are returning are not happy with the set up at new camps. This dissatisfaction of new camps is being voiced loud and clear across the gates, and will surely make the evacuation of Piraues difficult. On the other hand, the pressure from authorities on solidarity structures and volunteers is growing in recent days. They are blamed for preventing refugees to leave for new camps. Today authorities interrupted sharing lunch to refugees saying that the port will get empty by the end of the week and one officer recently said that “the aim is the peaceful movement, but if that doesn’t happen, we’ll ultimately go with broom.” Nevertheless, the situation at Piraeus is not ideal either. For example, head lice is becoming an issue in E1. Team Brit is still looking for long term translators to work in the team due to a number of members in the team departing on relocation.

After Piraeus, there are also plans either to close down ‪#‎Idomeni‬ completely, or to put it down to 4,000-5,000 refugees. Discussions on Greek TV claim that, for now, authorities are trying to encourage people to leave Idomeni voluntarily, but that they will use police force if they have to. Greece is opening several new camps until the end of the month, so there will be space to move refugees away from the border. Speaking of Idomeni, the camp is in urgent need of volunteers!

Soup&Socks kitchen team reports slow progress is being made but the technical conditions in ‪#‎Katsikas‬ remain poor. Hygiene is still a problem: broken taps and Dixie-toilets, too few showers, garbage cans, growing lice problems with children. There is no flooring in the tents, majority is still without mattresses and new arrivals have to sleep on the rubble if they don’t find anything better. They merely recieve a plastic sheet to place beneath them. Among a few refugees there’s great frustration visible due to poor living conditions. Some have started drinking and tensions between the different nationalities are getting stronger. But majority is still hopeful and tolerant to the difficult situation around. There’s many efforts to improve the situation: Soup&Socks cooks 1000 portions of soups and purees and they involved refugees to assist them, Olvidados have started singing and dancing activities for the children, group of 10 greek clowns visited the camp 2 days ago and made all laugh, Lighthouse Relief has plans to start school lessons, the men from the Greek military play football with kids, and altogether even organized screening of “El Classico” football match in the camp. Besides, local people of Ioannina are very helpful and supportive.

Group of Carry the Future volunteers was 1st international team to visit ‪#‎Konitsa‬ refugee center close to Albania and they report that residents are reasonably well cared for, though head of the camp was not open to outside volunteers (he begrudgingly allowed them to work outside). Besides, in last 2 days they visited all other Epirus region camps: Filippiada, Doliana and Katsikas. They were allowed access to all camps and were able to get carriers and other basic aid to all families with small children that asked for it.

‪#‎MACEDONIA‬: After the start of the EU-Turkey agreement, Macedonia is no longer a country of transit. The northern border camp ‪#‎Tabanovce‬ holds 1,040 refugees: Afghans, Syrians, and Iraqis. The south camp ‪#‎Vinojug‬ in ‪#‎Gevgelija‬ has registered 135 refugees, of which 38 are Yazidi, 3-4 Afghans, and the rest are Syrians. Conditions in Gevgelija are comparably good: refugees have 3 meals a day, including fruits and vegetables, free Internet, beds for sleeping, kindergarten, 24/7 medical team, legal support of the Association of Young Lawyers “MILA,” present UNHCR is available, volunteers and NGO’s that provide refugees with clothes and food.

On the other hand, in Tabanovce again today we received complains from Afghan refugees who claim that the food is really terrible, and there’s someone allowed coming in the camp and selling food: 2 Euro for loaf of bread, 10 Euro for chicken. Food they get smells really bad, so they usually buy that bread and some other food from the guy, at least the ones who have money. Sometimes police beats them, more out of pure boredom. Here is a little video from yesterday showing bad food situation: http://bit.ly/22aWa4k

On the bright side there’s a newborn baby Sivar in Gevgelija camp. He is first Yazidi born in Macedonia.

‪#‎SERBIA‬: Until the end of ‪#‎Miksaliste‬ working hours, a total number of newcoming refugees was 328: 255 men, 35 women and 38 children. Refugee Aid Miksaliste has yesterday started with creative workshops for refugees. They started teaching refugees English, German and Serbian, and they also plan to make jewelry. Likewise, refugee-volunteers from Pakistan and Afghanistan will teach volunteers Persian language. Thanks to Novi Sad Humanitarian Center, Refugee Aid Miksaliste will be holding these workshops for all interested visitors every single day.

‪#‎CROATIA‬: Two more men asked for asylum yesterday leaving 111 refugees in ‪#‎SlavonskiBrod‬ camp on this sunny and hot day. Heat could pose serious problems as temperatures rise. Volunteers from CMS held the 1st class of Croatian for refugees. Meantime in ‪#‎Zagreb‬, Minister of foreign affairs announces that Croatia won’t have more than 500 relocations from Turkey. Croatia is supposed to host 1,600 refugees according to 2 EU programmes – relocations from Italy&Greece and relocations from 3rd countries (namely Turkey and Jordan).

‪#‎GERMANY‬: During the “no border action days” in ‪#‎Freiburg‬/‪#‎Basel‬ last weekend, hundreds of left activists blocked a highway on the Swiss/German border crossing for 3 hours to protest against the fortress Europe, for open borders and to show solidarity with all refugees.

According to ORF.at: While Austria is closing its Southern and Eastern borders German Interior Minister Thomas de Maziere is planning to stop border controls at the German-Austrian border soon. Because of the low numbers of migrants crossing the border, he sees no need to continue the border controls after 12th May. The number of officers at the borders is already decreasing.

Germany saw arrival of its first group of refugees (78 Syrian) as part of EU-Turkey deal.

‪#‎ITALY‬: MSF Italia opened today in ‪#‎Rome‬ a rehabilitation centre for refugees and immigrants survivors of torture.

‪#‎NETHERLANDS‬: Netherlands saw arrival of its first group of refugees (31 Syrian) as part of EU-Turkey deal.

#BELGIUM: Belgian state secretary for asylum Theo Feancken announced that he will present a new law to the Parliament. The law stipulates that citizens of the non EU countries who want to stay in Belgium for more then three months are obliged to sign a promise that “they will try to fit into Belgian civilization”. This formulation is explicitly written in the said document. This means that “violence against other persons, wives and children is punishable by law” and that a signatory of the document has to respect “the freedom of religion” and that they are obliged to try and prevent terrorist attacks.

#NORWAY: The Norwegian government has presented a comprehensive suggestion to law change to tighten refugee policy. It will be one of the most stringent regulations in Europe, says Immigration and Integration Minister Sylvi Listhaug of the Progress Party, which claims that the legislative changes do not violate international rules. Under the plan, asylum seekers whose case is viewed as “obviously groundless” could be jailed while their claim is fast-tracked under Norway’s so-called ’48-hour procedure’. That measure, put in place in January 2004, calls for migrants arriving from what the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) to have their asylum applications processed and rejected within two days. Integration Minister Sylvi Listhaug is now proposing that migrants with no legitimate asylum claim should be jailed while their cases are processed. “We can see that unfounded asylum seekers disappear while the police are processing their applications. This will prohibit them from running off and eventually getting involved in criminal activity. Now we will know where we have them, get their applications processed and then return them,” Listhaug told broadcaster NRK. Listhaug said that 90 of the 537 asylum seekers whose cases were processed under the 48-hour procedure in 2015 disappeared. “Of those, we don’t know where 90 percent of them are and thus we also haven’t sent them out [of the country],” she said. Listhaug’s plan is backed by the Liberal Party (Venstre) and the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti), assuring the government of a parliamentary majority. The Norwegian Bar Association (Advokatforeningen) is among the critics of the plan, saying that it could scare off those who have legitimate asylum claims.

In a tiny village of #Neiden, Norway, a third of the people are Syrian refugees. While most refugees from Syria and Afghanistan come to Europe by sea, a fraction have taken the northern route instead and have crossed the border from Russia into Norway. It’s cheaper, and somewhat safer, although so cold that at least one person waiting to cross the border into nearby Finland froze to death. The village is literally almost empty. “There’s no supermarket, no petrol station, nothing,” says Iovino. “What they really do during the day is nothing, watching TV and waiting. They can’t even say I’m going outside, because it’s too cold . . . they want to go to school, they want to start a life. That’s why they came to Norway.” The hotel is one of six refugee centers in the region, all privately run and getting subsidies from the government. The centers often lack enough basic supplies. “They give you food, which is not enough for a cat,” says Mansour Hanna Youssef, who stayed at the hotel until he was sent to another center nearby. In 2015, more than 30,000 people applied for asylum in Norway; 10,000 of those were from Syria, and almost 7,000 from Afghanistan. In the beginning of the year, most applications were granted. But that quickly changed. Now, the majority of applicants are deported. At the same time, Norway has contributed generously to refugee relief elsewhere (it gave 385% of what Oxfam consider a country’s “fair share” in 2015; the U.S. gave 76% of its share). But many wonder why a country as rich as Norway—with a per capita GDP twice that of the U.S.—can’t also help support those who have crossed its borders.

Thank you United Rescue Aid for the images of the baby Sivar and Madelena Grossmann for the images of volunteers sending knitted hats for babies like Sivar. Finally, thank you Soup & Socks for your wonderful work and images from Katsikas.

Cover photo via Anti-Racist Front Without Borders