Evros. Greece. March 6, 2020. Ioannis Lagos, a longtime member of the far right Golden Dawn party, was spotted at the Greek-Turkish border in Evros. He was photographed with members of local so-called “protection” groups and at least two police officers.
A far-right website published his activities, saying he was “actively participating in patrols organized by locals, to locate & turn over to the authorities the illegal immigrants-jihadists, that are crossing the borders by the thousands.” Clearly, he is an active participant in the violence being perpetrated against vulnerable people at the border and is making no effort to hide his presence.
This is not the first violent action that Lagos has participated in. In 2017, he was involved in an attack on an Athens school that planned to offer classes to children living in a nearby refugee camp. He and others stormed the school and punched teachers and parents just for daring to offer education to vulnerable children. Last year, he was found guilty of inciting violence that led to an attack on a community center in 2013. He is clearly a dangerous individual that should not be given the platform that a member of European Parliament gets. It also shows a lot about the way violence against people on the move is unfortunately accepted by many in Greece since he shows no attempt to hide his actions.
If you are wondering what Lagos and his new buddies are up to, Greek journalists obtained video footage of one vigilante group’s actions in Evros. Most of these groups are farmers from the area who know the land well and use the powerful lights on their tractors to track movement. They work in tandem with the national guard and police to arrest people. The easy cooperation and overlap between Greek authorities and violent far-right militias should be worrying.
Far-right actors are moving their harassment of people on the move and their allies to the web as well as attacking them physically. Aegean Boat Report, which publishes crucial information on arrivals to Greece, has been spammed with over 100 negative reviews and comments on Facebook that are nearly identical. Their page was shared to several far-right Facebook groups and this was clearly a coordinated attack. This is part of a larger intimidation campaign taking place online and offline to scare off solidarity workers that could also stop information from getting to the outside world if they succeed in getting important pages like Aegean Boat Report taken down. These organizations need our support!
However, Neo-Nazis and far-right vigilantes are not having a perfectly easy time. A group of five German and Austrian Neo-Nazis who came to Lesvos were attacked by locals, sending one of them to the hospital. They allegedly came to “hunt refugees” and show solidarity with the Greek people, but for some reason posed as reporters looking for the “Greek perspective” on the issue of people on the move. When they were not receiving responses that satisfied them, they began provoking locals by shouting about the Kalavyrta massacre, when Nazis killed hundreds of Greek boys and men during the occupation. After that, they were punished and although police are allegedly searching for the attackers, local media is not sympathetic at all. “They should go as they came! There is no place for them in Lesvos!” politikalesvos wrote. They have been identified as members of the “Identity Movement.” This post identifies them further and contains links explaining their violent pasts.
Another group of 10 German and Austrian “Identitarians” were deported by the Greek government after showing up at the Greek-Turkish border. This is not the first time the group has been involved in vigilanteism against people on the move — last year they were caught trying to attack people crossing on the sea route between Libya and Italy by boat.
Punishments are starting to trickle in for a select few who threatened people on the move and solidarity workers. On Lesvos, two locals who made threats against Efi Latsoudi and Refugee Support Aegean were given a three month suspended prison sentence. While most of these far-right actors will go unpunished, it is still heartening to see that they are being met with resistance.
Evros was also the site of clashes at the border itself. Early Wednesday morning, the Greek police and military clashed with people on the move. Tear gas was fired from the Turkish side, probably by the Turkish army. There has also been information (Warning Facebook Link) that the army is giving people scissors and pliers to cut through the border fence, which will lead to violent reactions from the Greek side.
In a different video filmed late Friday night and streamed on Facebook (Warning Facebook Link) , more clashes are shown. The video is filmed from the Turkish side but shows shots coming from the Greek side.
People crossing at the Evros border have already been subject to torture in addition to tear gas and bullets. People are being stripped naked (Warning Facebook Link) and robbed by the Greek police before being sent back to the Turkish border in the cold Balkan winter. There is clearly no point in taking people’s clothing besides pure humiliation and to break their morale.
In Serres, in the north of Greece, locals protested against government plans to move people to facilities near them in order to lessen overcrowding on the islands. They gathered outside the military camp Kalergis and lit fires on the ground outside (the news reported that they were set to keep warm. We wonder if reporters would be so kind in their interpretation if people on the move were the ones setting things on fire). Although other locations were proposed by local officials, the government made it clear that the eventual camp would be in Sintiki municipality and host around 500 people. People in Lesvos have already begun boarding ferries to be transported to the north.
Another proposal by the Greek government is to build camps on uninhabited islands, as announced by ministers in public statements. This proposal is eerily reminiscent of concentration camps Australia has hosted for years.
During the short month of February, 63 people were deported from Greece to Turkey that we know of. A full report of the deportations can be found here.
Even though the news coming out of Greece can seem more overwhelming than usual, there are still ways you can stand in solidarity with people on the move.
If you are in Lesvos, there is a solidarity rally on Saturday, March 7th, at 11am. More information is on the poster below (in Greek).
Next week the Cars of Hope collective will travel to Greece again to support refugees. They need your support to contunue their work.
You can support them by Bank transfer or Paypal:
Name of the Bank: Volksbank im Bergischen Land
Account holder: Hopetal e.V.
Description: Cars of Hope
IBAN: DE51 3406 0094 0002 9450 87
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Support the work of the Cars of Hope collective with refugees on the Balkan route.