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Legal Centre #Lesvos: No-man’s lands for Europe’s “undesirables”

Lesvos. Greece. March 11, 2020. Since the Prime Minister’s announcement on 1st March that Greece would suspend the right to seek asylum, all migrants who have reached the Greek islands from Turkey are detained upon arrival, in a state of limbo.

Originally published by Legal Centre Lesvos Facebook page.

In the port of Mytilene, at least 574 people – among them young children, pregnant women, disabled individuals, and unaccompanied minors – are arbitrarily detained, the vast majority for over 10 days. A further 42 individuals are held under police supervision on the side of a road near Skala Skameia, with only two tents to sleep in. The Greek government has refused to allow these people to make applications for asylum, and has instead spoken of its plans for their “immediate deportation without registration, where possible, to their countries of origin or transit.” This is in clear violation of Greece’s regional and international obligations towards migrants, and puts these individuals at grave risk of refoulement.

People in the port, who have directly provided LCL with the information contained in this report, are detained in dire and inhumane conditions.

Many were forced to sleep outside, on the concrete floor and without any shelter, for the first days of their detention. This included nights of heavy rain, without waterproof cover or the chance of accessing dry clothes the next day. Now, everyone is held on a metal-floored military vessel, with thin mats to sleep on. Many have complained that they cannot sleep because of the cold. People are crammed next to each other, with no provisions made for vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied minors, single women, infants, or those with disabilities. Access to medical care is strictly for urgent cases, who are transferred to the hospital and then returned to the port; pregnant women, many of them close to term, have not been assessed by a doctor.

There are only eight portable toilets – five of which were delivered a week after detainees arrived – shared between the whole population. The toilets do not have running water, toilet paper, or soap. During the time that people have been detained in the port, the toilets have not been serviced. The obvious sanitation risk that this poses is exacerbated by the fact there are no showers – meaning that people have not had the opportunity to wash for more than ten days. In brief, people are not able to wipe themselves after using the toilet, wash their hands, or bathe. They are detained in conditions that can only be described as a violent assault on human dignity.

Food is served twice a day, and detainees have complained of its nutritional inadequacy – particularly for the children. Milk is given to babies once per day, but parents of particularly young infants have said that the provisions are not suitable for their children. Furthermore, babies are provided with only three diapers per day – despite infants needing, on average, triple that amount for the first year of their life. This is a chronic health issue, exacerbated again by the lack of washing facilities.

In Skala Skameia, more than 40 people have been held on a roadside since Saturday night. They had no shelter on the first night of their arrival, and during the rainstorm that hit, were huddled under the portico of a (locked) chapel. One tent was subsequently provided by UNHCR, which the children slept in; yesterday, a second was brought. There are no sanitation facilities, and people are instead left to openly defecate. The individuals there have not been registered or fingerprinted. It is unclear whether they will be taken to the port to join the other detainees.

There has been no update from the government as to when – or if – detainees will be moved, or whether they will be allowed to apply for asylum.

Upon arrival, and pursuant to the Greek government’s decision to suspend asylum applications, the detainees were taken from their landing sites to the port. After some days, they were taken to the police station, fingerprinted, and issued with a 3-day detention order – which, it stated, would be followed by a deportation order.

The paper was written in Greek, meaning that detainees were unable to read it. They were not provided with any explanation, written or oral, in a language that they could understand – despite the fact it included a 48 hour deadline to appeal the impending threat of deportation. Many believed that their fingerprints indicated that their asylum process was beginning. To the contrary, it could well have been to record them as illegal entrants to Europe – with profound impact on any future asylum case in Europe.

Furthermore, the vast majority of people in the port have now been held for more than the three days provided for by their detention order. Their detention – particularly in such inadequate conditions – has always been inconsistent with regional and international law. Now, however, the expiration of these detention orders means that there is absolutely no individual legal basis for their containment.

It has been an ongoing challenge for new arrivals, across the Aegean islands, to access legal support. In Lesvos, the lack of electricity for mobile phones was initially a tool in their isolation, until a demonstration organised by detainees on Saturday was followed by permission for them to charge their phones. In Samos, however, new arrivals’ phones – and reportedly some personal possessions – have been confiscated, making it even harder for legal actors to reach detainees.

Lawyers were initially denied access to the port in Lesvos, depriving individuals of their right to legal assistance – yet following an order from the Public Prosecutor, LCL and our colleagues from other legal aid organizations have been able to enter the port. Police remain hostile, however, demanding information on where lawyers obtained the names and details about detainees. In Chios, lawyers have been systematically denied access to the detainees, again detainees more vulnerable to the opaque procedures that the Greek government is implementing.

Since their arrival, much the black site exposed in Northern Greece, the individuals detained have been cut off from the rest of the world. Cell-phones have been seized by authorities in Samos. In Lesvos, immediately following last Friday’s BBC publication of a video showing children caged in the Mytilene port – and coincidentally, the day after lawyers finally gained access to visit detainees – people have been moved away from the exterior fence, where they initially could communicate with family, contacts, and legal actors. They are now held approximately 100 meters from the exterior fence.

Journalists who have access to the port have been told they cannot speak to people detained there, and that they can only film and photograph the area from a distance. Detainees have already said that they are treated worse than animals; now, the authorities have effectively placed them in a zoo.

The conditions faced by detainees in the port in Lesvos reflect the policies that affect migrants across the island. Unlawful containment (whether in the port, or on the island as a whole); the absolute inadequacy of reception conditions, including for vulnerable people; dire sanitation facilities – now in face of a global pandemic; and open disregard for migrants’ human rights, on the part of both the Greek government and the European Union that finances and supports it, are nothing new. What we see in the port is a microcosm of a broader process, in which migrants are pawns in the political games played by the states that are ostensibly bound to protect them.

With rage and in solidarity, we stand with all the detainees, and send our thanks to those who have shared this information with us.

Legal Centre Lesvos, March 11, 2020.

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