By Minem Marouf
Dear Friends, this is a call for help.
I have been on Lesvos with #HumanityCrew leading a wonderful team of Palestinian volunteers providing psychosocial support among other assistance to refugees arriving to the island by what could only be called ‘the death trip’ from the shores of Turkey. As it is, there are no proper words to describe the crisis. Those survivors arriving to the Greek shores have done the impossible to find a safe haven for them and their families. The people of Lesvos have been the kindest I have ever met in embracing the new arrivals with their limited resources. The humanitarian aid providers, whether aid workers or volunteers, who arrived to the island and those who are still there are doing heartfelt heroic work that can restore our faith in humanity no matter how pessimistic we were.
I’ve been home for a week now, trying very hard to fight the inevitable feelings of frustration and helplessness. I’m also trying to make sense of all the recent political developments that quickly translated to be a nightmare on the ground. How ironic it is that we were wondering why there has been nothing happening on the policy level; I personally regret wishing for their engagement.
The feelings of guilt I felt while saying goodbye to the refugees I left behind have only increased. It feels now that I left a disaster area minutes before the eruption of a volcano.
I’ll try to describe the recent developments that resulted from the disgraceful EU-Turkey deal:
Moria, the biggest camp and the only registration site on Lesvos (every refugee has to register upon arrival) was very crowded yet manageable; thanks to the dedication of organizations and volunteers who saw the dignity and wellbeing of refugees as the only priority. Now, this open camp has become a detention center to all arrivals regardless of the reason they embarked on this deadly journey to what they thought is a safe haven; only to find themselves dehumanized and facing a level of humiliation they naively thought they left behind.
The blatant infringement of their basic right of movement is not the only problem. The authorities are clearly implementing an intervention plan that is too expensive for their financial/logistic capacity. There is a disgraceful lack of basic services and of basic items; like food, baby food and blankets, otherwise covered by the NGOs who either were expelled or left as a principled decision. Whole families are left with lack of food and basic items or services. Vulnerable cases (and everyone who was on Lesvos knows how many they are) are left without the needed attention. Vulnerable cases are individuals with acute mental and physical health conditions, single parent families with children, elderly and most severely are those with war injuries and trauma related conditions who are now put in conditions that will make their healing process close to impossible.
Pikpa: the only open camp especially dedicated for vulnerable cases on the island of Lesvos (vulnerabilities detailed above) was asked to evacuate their residents. The claim was made on the basis that there is no need for the services of the camp in the current response plan (i.e. the shameless detention of asylum seekers). How can these cases that needed the highest amount of attention be left without follow up? How is that a request possible in a legal system that claims to respect basic human dignity? What the fuck made the official who made this decision so confident in a decision as fucked up as this one?
Idomeni: a semi camp on the northern borders of Greece that has been hosting tens of thousands of helpless refugees who were trapped there for weeks as countries decided to close their boarders in their face. The camp is mostly hosting families, women and children and newborns. The word that I heard from everyone who visited there is that the conditions are tragic. Again, comes to mind, what were these European leaders thinking? What made them so confident in taking this stupid decision? Did they count on mainstream media to cover for their crimes? Did they think this would be forgotten?
Athens: all camps in Athens are full; all third sector service providers are stiflingly overwhelmed. Piles of relocation, asylum and family reunification applications are sealing-high with tentative processing time of several months. We used to worry for those who might not qualify, now we are terrified to think about what will happen to those who actually qualify. Many independent local volunteers are renting houses for these families on their own expense. As heartwarming this is on the human level, this is a disgrace to the system that made individuals with limited resources step up and cover for its failure.
This is not all. All what is described above is potentially the calm before the storm. The scenario that scares everyone is that these asylum seekers will be sent back to the nightmare they escaped (which is the main part of the ‘deal’). The EU who assumed the role of the guardian of human rights around the world (ironic, I know) is now on the verge of committing one of the worst crimes against humanity; mass deportation. Those stupid legal advisors who thought of the ‘one for one’ legal loophole should be disgraced just like proper war criminal.
I urge you to help with whatever you think possible. The first tool to be used is exposure. If you know journalists, news agencies, bloggers that can shed light on the disgraceful deal and its nightmarish implications on the ground, please bring this to their attention asap. If you are a citizen of the EU, lobby your representative; create petitions, and plan demonstrations. After all, this is done in your name. Last but not least, share, speak up and follow the developments.
Photo: Moria detention center, March 2016: Syrian children trying to bring their voice to the outside world.