Thu 24 June 2021

Tasnim Nazeer reports on the migrant crisis in Greece and the refugees being threatened by a rising tide of hostility.

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The world’s attention may have been fixed elsewhere, but Europe’s migrant crisis is an ongoing struggle which presents world leaders with ethical and moral considerations in ensuring refugees fleeing persecution are kept safe.

Just a few days ago, refugees came under attack from a group of racist locals at Moria refugee camp, Lesvos in Greece, after Turkey opened its borders to allow thousands of refugees who are desperate to reach Europe across the border.

Thousands of refugees are now at the borders in Greece, with protests being held by refugees in the camps, due to deteriorating living conditions and crimes that have escalated, putting refugee families at risk. 

The Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesvos was initially designed to hold only 3000 people but it is currently home to 5000 people from 64 different countries, including refugees fleeing the war in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Angola. A group of peaceful protestors who had marched to the area of Mytilini, the main port and capital of Lesvos, were met by riot police, who are often deployed to deal with refugees in the camps and who had reportedly thrown tear gas at migrants trying to enter the Greek border. People are spilling out into tents because the camp cannot adequately support those coming in and the situation is getting worse by the day, whilst resistance to accept these refugees is heightened by the Greek government.

Team Humanity an organisation helping out on the ground in Moria camp’s Founder, Salam Aldeen told Byline Times, “ The situation is really bad so much so that there were a lot of aid organisations who stopped coming to the Moria camp out of fear. There is currently only a few of us here and medical staff. Facists are not allowing refugees who are coming with their families on boats to come into Greece. The boats are being attacked by Greek police and some refugees are stranded for hours in the sea. I have taken video footage but still the world is remaining silent.”

Aldeen further stated that “There needs to be a thorough investigation into how the Greek government and authorities are treating refugees who are living in dire conditions without hardly enough food. As I was helping the refugees the Greek government deported me last year but 64 members of the EU parliament including Amnesty International signed a letter in my support”.

The current refugee crisis in Greece is the outcome of a longstanding history of the European refugee crisis which had originally reached its peak in 2015 when 1 million people sought refuge in Europe. Five years on and little has changed in providing solutions for those in search of safety and a better life away from war, violence or persecution. 

By 2019, it was reported that around 120,000 migrants and asylum seekers had reportedly come to Europe according to the International Organization for Migration, with the vast majority crossing the Mediterranean Sea, which is a significant decrease since 2015 which saw an unprecedented 1 million people seeking asylum in Europe. However, the situation we now face is one that shows no compassion for those arriving at the borders with nowhere to go, nothing to eat and have undergone a difficult journey reach Europe by boat.

The EU’s policy has been focused on blocking onward migration to the rest of Europe from those that arrive under difficult circumstances in Greece. Their policy involves migrants who arrive in Lesvos having to apply for asylum before they are even able to move on which can pose the problem of leaving them stranded in Lesvos if they cannot do this. 

If refugees try to go to another country without seeking asylum in Lesvos, then they must return to Lesvos to go through the process all over again. Sadly, there is no change in the policies moving forward, despite there being plans in place to reportedly increase spending on migration management and border controls but this will only take place in the next seven years. The immediate problems cannot be rectified with the current policies in place.

The plight of refugees coming into the Moria refugee camp is dire as they are now living in fear having to face angry locals and riot police on the island who do not want the refugees to be there.

I have been helping out at UK charity Southern Women’s Aid Network (SWAN) who has been on the ground in the Moria camp and sends vital food aid and clothes to refugees. 

Bread is given to refugee families living in refugee camps in Moria, Northern Greece [Tasnim Nazeer/SWAN]

The founder of SWAN UK, Saiqa Ali, told Byline Times that “the situation in Greece is a nightmare. There are 22,000 refugees currently in Moria. The camp building itself is for 3,000. There are refugees camped in tents with little or no amenities. 200 people share 1 toilet and women wear nappies at night so they don’t have to go to the toilet. Every day there are more refugees arriving and since last week the situation has become unbearable due to the riots that have been disrupting the lives of refugee families in the camps”.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been to Greece a number of times and met with refugees and held the beautiful children that my heart breaks when I see them suffering; or maybe it’s just because I’m not desensitised yet. But seeing the way the refugees in Greece are being treated makes me cry. I really wish there was a magic wand and someone could wave it and take away the suffering of so many innocent people around the world who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s just so sad.

There’s not a lot any of us can do but we have a responsibility and duty to do what little we can. Without fail SWAN and Team Humanity are distributing bread every day this week to provide something to people who have nothing.”

Many of these refugees have children and are stranded in wet clothes.  The locals have also burnt down a transit camp last night. SWAN volunteers were attacked by locals with bats and chains and many were unable to return to their homes due to mobs of angry people blocking the roads.

For over a decade the migrant crisis has been an urgent political issue. Tens and thousands of people have died out at sea trying to get into Europe but sadly we have seen the rise of anti-migrant hostility within European policies.  In Britain, the Conservative government have pushed back on accepting refugees with only 3% of asylum applications being lodged due to the increase in denied entries.

Where is the compassion for families looking for safe sanctuary after fleeing persecution, war and violence? More needs to be done to restore dignity to refugees who have suffered at the hands of decisions of those in power and governments in Europe need to focus on providing legislation that ensures safety is paramount for those wanting to reach safety in Europe. 

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