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People removed from Greek islands without a chance to seek asylum

Greece. March 14, 2020. Following the departure of the military boat carrying 500 rejected people from Lesvos, we were unofficially told they would probably be moved to closed facilities in the northern part of Greece.

Originally published by Are You Syrious. Image above: Growing concerns over COVID-19 in overcrowded refugee camps. Image: MSF

Refugees on Lesvos asked to sign documents in Greek, leading to their “voluntary returns”

Greek authorities on Lesvos seem to be returning people on the move to Turkey by having them sign their own voluntary return documents. It seems Greek authorities are giving Afghans, and others being kept in navy boats in the port of Lesvos, documents like the one in the photo below which outlines their “consent” to legal expulsion.

Trusted sources tell AYS that people on the move are being asked to sign these documents, despite the fact that they do not understand what it says and no one explains what impact it will have on them.

“The document makes reference to several provisions of Greek and EU law, as well as the EU-Turkey Statement, but makes no reference to the Presidential Decree in which the access to asylum procedures was suspended for one month”, AYS was told.

Under section 6, it clearly states that by signing this document, the person has been informed, in a language s/he understands, of their rights and the reasons of their detention. Section 8 states that the person has not appealed the return decision within the 48 hour deadline.

There are serious concerns among people on the ground that detained refugees were NOT informed of anything regarding their detention, expulsion or of their ability to appeal the decision. It appears they are not even informed about what this specific document states. Sources say they are sure that the detained people concerned have not been given any actual means to appeal their return decision.

Even though it may seem obvious, it is worth repeating that suspending access to asylum and collectively returning people back to Turkey is in flagrant violation of several EU laws, the Geneva Convention and of the fundamental rights all EU Member States are obliged to protect. Moreover, Commissioner Johansson has said several times that the right to asylum shall be respected at all times and for all cases. Yet, these actions continue occurring in the face of EU principles, laws and norms.

Following the departure of the military boat carrying 500 rejected people from Lesvos, we were unofficially told they would probably be moved to closed facilities in the northern part of Greece, possibly in a new migrant detention centre being established in the region of Serres, in the nearest proximity to the Bulgarian border.

Frontex presence surges at Evros border

In the past few days, hundreds of police officers from across Europe have been sent to the Greek region of Evros, next to the Greek-Turkish border, in order to “secure” the Union’s external border. Men and women from Poland, Austria, Germany, Estonia, and many other EU member states, along with huge amounts of special equipment and vehicles, have been deployed to the land border with Turkey.

“The presence underlines the fact that the protection of the European area of freedom, security and justice is a shared responsibility of all Member States and Frontex.”

On Friday these forces were officially fully deployed and are now in full operation.

Meanwhile, the islands are still completely overwhelmed, and boats continue arriving.

In response to the impending arrival of Coronavirus, aid agencies are scrambling to prepare as best as they can in what seems to be a hopeless situation. The island camps provide the perfect breeding ground for the Coronavirus with no soap, little water, minimal toilets and thousands of people crammed together in less than hygienic conditions.

“Families of five or six have to sleep in spaces of no more than three square meters [32 square feet]. This means that recommended measures such as frequent hand washing and social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus are just impossible.”

While aid agencies are doing the best they can to prepare and sensitize the community, awareness does little if clean water cannot be found.

In Chios, the situation is appalling as new arrivals are housed out in the open. In these conditions, it seems there are 2 toilets for every 250 people. The toilets are never cleaned and dirty water from the toilet is running all over the place. There are sick people among them who are also forced to sleep in the street. Children and women may sleep in vans, but the men are all outside, exposed to rain, wind and sun.

Volunteers are not allowed to help or approach. It seems these people may be transferred to a closed deportation center on the mainland on Wednesday.

Families stuck outside at the port in Chios

In the Amygdaleza detention center, a police officer tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the first confirmed case in Antynomia. Apparently, the officer traveled to Vienna several days ago and returned showing symptoms. While she does not work directly in the detention centers, there were refugees in her office and fears are growing that some may have contracted the virus.

In wake of the growing concerns over coronavirus, the police officers’ union of the Aegean and Dodecanese islands called for the responsible ministers to decongest the islands and for increased attention to human rights as well as public health. In a letter to the ministers, the union expressed their opinion that a lack of understanding about the seriousness of the situation prevails and will only bring more damage in the long term.

On the islands, many schools and activities run by NGOs are temporarily closing as a preventative measure against Coronavirus. On Samos, Alpha Centre is one of the latest to close down as well.

In the Exarcheia neighborhood of Athens, a refugee was beaten and arrested on Friday night. Below is a video account of the event.

Read the full daily digest of Are You Syrious? here. Topics: Growing Concerns about the Spread of Coronavirus // Illegal Returns in Greece // The Criminalization of Giving Assistance to People on the Move in Bosnia // Disastrous Conditions for Deported Afghans // & More.


As soon as the situation allows (due to Corona restrictions by several EU governments) the Cars of Hope collective will travel to Greece  again to support refugees. They need your support to continue their work. Read their statement here.

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