LESVOS UPDATE: IMPACT OF THE NEW EU/TURKEY AGREEMENT ON THE GROUND
(Some potentially traumatic content from our team member Sim, just to warn ahead…)
This weekend, the lives of two fathers were lost from one rubber dinghy making its way from Turkey to the Southern coast of Lesvos.
Two families will now struggle on, fatherless, dehumanised by European officials and laws at every possible turn, whilst navigating the traumatic experience of having lost a loved one.
The high number of boats on Saturday night was a direct result of the recent EU/Turkey agreement, which comes into full force this week. As the boats grounded onto the beaches, refugees cried out to the volunteers:
“Are we too late? Will we be deported back to Turkey?”
Noone can give them a straight answer.
The finalisation of this EU/Turkey deal has seen a mass evacuation of refugees from the island of Lesvos this weekend. Around 3000 refugees have been removed from the camps at Moria and Kara Tepe, and are currently on ferries to Kavala on mainland Greece. They will then be placed in centres around Northern Greece, from which they’ll have the opportunity to apply for asylum, reunification or relocation programmes. Those that fail in these applications will most likely be sent back to Turkey.
Throughout this entire evacuation, information for both refugees and volunteers has been scarce and confusing. There was no official presence at the port last night giving any explanations. Bus loads of refugees were being brought down from Moria to fill up the ferry. All we can do, as volunteers, is provide for their most immediate needs, in terms of food, clothing, and what little information we can gather. These refugee’s, with nothing left but what they can carry on their backs, had to then buy tickets for a trip they were being forced to take, ahead of the slow and painful process of asylum, reunification, or relocation programmes. The chances for most are slim at best.
In line with the new EU/Turkey agreement, new arrivals on the island will be taken to Moria, which has now transitioned from a registration centre, into a detention centre. This will be run through official Greek channels and the army, removing the need for volunteers and NGOs. The refugees will also be given the chance to apply for asylum, but the high chance of rejection will result in deportation back to Turkey.
Refugees often come to us for advice on what they should do: it is a difficult position to be in, with the feeling of someone’s life in your hands and no sustainable or positive information to give.
Sim continues to adapt to the situation in front of him, providing basic needs and facilitating an environment where we might restore some semblance of control and dignity to refugees who have been robbed of everything.
The future is massively uncertain for all involved – for the refugees, on the ferry to mainland Greece, and for the volunteers, as the authorities look to stem the flow of refugees completely and control the movements of those who do make it across.
These developments will dramatically affect our work and projects in Lesvos, but just like in Calais, we will continue to be reactive and flexible in our approach to supporting refugees, wherever they are, wherever they go, we will be there…
Thank you Simeon Gready for these amazing words and images, and your continued dedication towards justice and equality.