Refugees who survive the journey and succeed to cross the maritime border between Turkey and Greece in small and overcrowded plastic boats are subjected to the so-called EU ‘hotspot approach’ since its launch on Friday 16th of October 2015. As part of the European Agenda on Migration, hotspots are now being deployed by mobile teams of the European border agency Frontex to support so-called ‘frontline EU states’ in systematically identifying and screening travelers who ‘illegally’ entered EU territory. One of Frontex’ main tasks is to speed up the ‘return process’, thus the deportation of those who Frontex ‘identifies’ as not coming from a country of war and/or as not having valid grounds for asylum in Europe.
Since Frontex has entered the scene, registration processes were dramatically slowed down. Frontex procedures of ‘screening’ individuals takes a long time which has caused great delays and thus created a situation of humanitarian emergency for the hundreds of people waiting outside. The official opening of this hotspot on Lesvos coincided with increased numbers of new arrivals and deteriorating weather conditions. While it rained non-stop in the past few days, dinghies kept arriving from Turkey. In the absence of any functioning queuing system and any form of crowd management by the authorities, and without access to shelter (protecting people from the harsh weather conditions), sanitary infrastructures such as toilets, as well as to food, water, dry clothing, medication and doctors, hundreds of desperate refugees are left to survive in between mud and piles of garbage outside of Moria’s fences.
The scenes in Moria remind us of war-zones: For several miles people are queuing, often for many days. They are exhausted and stand, sit or even lie in the mud, often after just having escaped death when crossing the sea. Highly vulnerable individuals are neither identified, nor protected, supported or prioritized. There are children, elderly, and pregnant women who are only cared for by activist volunteers and who are made to wait outside by Frontex, and those who drop out of this never-ending queue have to get back to the end of the line. Several women lost their unborn babies due to the stressful circumstances waiting in the line, families got separated in the chaotic situation, children are crying desperately for their parents.
Welcome to Europe has documented this awful situation already since the beginning of October in several Blogposts that included pictures of the scenery: http://infomobile.w2eu.net/.
At the same time, authorities have separated procedures and accommodation of Syrians from Non-Syrians, creating a two-class system where some are prioritized while others are discriminated against, even if one can hardly speak of any privilege in this situation of mass suffering.
For several months now, UNHCR as well as dozens of International and Greek NGOs have rushed to Lesvos to offer humanitarian aid to fill the gaps left by the Greek government. However, the foreseeable deterioration of weather conditions seems to have caught everyone by surprise – no one was prepared for the consequences of rain fall, nor has anybody managed to support those who are presently situated in several locations on the island, without basic resources and shelter. The response to the humanitarian crisis is too little and too late, while millions of Euros have flown into emergency aid. At the same time, the civil society, including mainly locals but also people coming from all over the world to help, has shown great solidarity without which we might have had to report of more victims of Fortress Europe on Lesvos Island.
The ongoing tragedy in the “Hot Spot” and around, mirrors the failure of Europe to protect refugees and the violence of the border regime on which European Migration policies are based. Screening and registration are priority, peoples’ lives are not.
We demand the immediate end of hotspot procedures and the instant withdrawal of Frontex personnel. The EU has to immediately put an end to the slowing-down of registration procedures produced by Frontex which is life-threatening. We denounce the procedure of ‘speeding up returns’ in the strongest possible terms. We call for the opening of land borders so that people on the move do not have to risk, and at times lose, their lives. We demand widespread humanitarian aid provisions to sufficiently address the pressing needs of those who arrive on the Greek islands and a dignified welcoming of refugees by offering protection.
Freedom of movement for all!