One Happy Family

April 2020

With the situation still at breaking point on Lesvos, our Newsletter is still different to normal. We would like to update you about the current situation and what happened during March at One Happy Family.

One Happy Family temporarily closed due to tensions & fire

As announced in the last monthly newsletter, we had to close our Community Centre at the end of February due to the tensions on the island. The plan was to reopen at the beginning of March, but tragically we couldn’t due to a fire breaking out.
7th March, fire at One Happy Family
On 7th of March the school building and the two main offices of One Happy Family were completely destroyed by a fire.
This was our statement on social media the following day:

It’s not buildings that burned down.
It’s part of a place of hope and solidarity that were destroyed by this fire.

It’s with a broken heart that we inform you that the school building burned completely down. Our partner “The international School of Peace” run the children school there – allowing children stuck on Lesvos to have one of their basic right: Education. Always with dignity and respect. A basic right that isn’t given to them in Moria.
At the same time classes for adults took place every day – allowing people to have a purpose, aim and as our Adult School Director Abdul put it “to do something useful while waiting”. While waiting, sometimes for years, in an overcrowded European Refugee Camp.

Our two main offices, the coordination team office and the helper’s office, also burned down completely. These offices were the heart of the busy community center – a place where everyone was welcome, where the visions of OHF have been formed and noted on the walls – “Humanity will win!” Where all of our Helpers had a special place with their picture being put on the “Wall of fame”. Dear former helpers, your pictures are gone, but all of you are always in our hearts, never forget that!

All the destroyed things are devastating, it will take us some time to recover and make OHF accessible again, but there is a very important message that we want to share:

We are still shocked by the pictures of OHF and the School of Peace in flames.
We are amazed by all your kind words and messages.
No one got hurt and we still do not know how the fire started.
But what we really need now is not only your kind words and your financial support.
We don’t need anger or hate.
What we need is a political change!

The real victims are the people seeking safety in Europe.
The people on the Aegean Islands.
All the people who are trapped in inhumane and unlawful conditions since years!
As well as the locals of the Aegean Islands that are left alone.

We need all of you to stand up and fight for a humane European asylum system, for freedom of movement for everyone and for #safepassage!

We will not let this stop us.
One Happy Family is a place of hope and solidarity – we will continue our work and not let this stop us.
Europe must act!”
Police statement: the fire was caused by arson
Read below the statement we made on 21st of March on social media:
On the evening of 20th of March, “the Hellenic Police of Mytilini published a press release stating that the fire which broke out on 7th of March 2020 was organized arson. They identified 3 individuals – two foreigners and one Greek passport-holder”. ( https://bit.ly/3dj7wB6 )

We are currently in close contact with our lawyer and we'll share an update as soon as we have more information from the authorities. Prior to the press release we had not been informed about the findings of the ongoing investigation; hence we don't have any further information about what exactly happened, who the perpetrators are or what their motives were.

But we know now, that it was an attack. An attack on a structure of solidarity and hope. On a school, which has given access to education for around 5000 children over the past three years.

The International School of Peace (ISOP), an on-the-ground partner of the One Happy Family Community Centre (OHF), was founded as a collaboration between the Hashomer Hatzair Life movement and Ajyal movement: «We are educators and teachers, Jews and Arabs. We were all raised in Israeli youth movements where we learned that each and every one of us has a responsibility to the society we live in and the world we are part of. »

The School of Peace and One Happy Family make up a society where together we overcome racism, hatred and the fear of each other by getting to know one another and working together.

Burning down a school like the International School of Peace, is not just destroying a building but is an attack on a facility offering a safe space and basic human rights for many people. One Happy Family, with all the partner organizations, is a peaceful, colourful and active place for all people to realise and achieve their goals. For human beings to feel safe, respected, learn and teach one another with dignity. It is a place, created together, where we support each other and where human rights are not negotiable. It is a place offering normality that has been unlawfully taken away from many of our visitors. But it’s not just One Happy Family, it’s not just one place and it is not only in Lesvos, there is a bigger movement of solidarity and hope all over the world with the determination to fight for human rights, equality and justice.

This recent incident of hate is only the latest attack on this structure of solidarity and the people we work with. In the last few weeks, the situation escalated dramatically with refugees, volunteers, journalists and local people being attacked by far-right extremist groups. However, for the months and years preceding this, the situation on the Aegean Islands, the borders in the north of Greece and all across Greece has been at a breaking point and state of emergency: 20,000 people stuck in desolate and dangerous conditions in Moria camp on Lesvos; many more on other islands; the ongoing human rights violations; the suspension of the right to ask for asylum in Greece; the illegal push-backs; and the violence used to stop people from crossing the borders is far worse than the damage caused to the buildings of One Happy Family and The International School of Peace. This systematic violence is ongoing, watched and with the knowledge and acceptance of the European Union.

The situation on Lesvos, the other Aegean Islands, Turkey’s northern border, the central Mediterranean Sea, Spain and Italy, is the outcome of the EU’s neglectful migration policy and social injustice all over the world. Instead of finding solutions, the EU left Greece to deal with this situation alone. Europe must act now, to evacuate the Aegean Islands before Covid-19 reaches the camps, and relocate people. The EU needs to provide safe passage for people seeking safety, to make sure that human rights and the rights according to the Geneva Convention are respected and granted for every human being, and to make sure that everyone can live safely and in dignity.

Please sign and share the following petitions:
#EuropeMustAct: http://chng.it/gmtfKXkSh2 (this one finished already)
#LeaveNoOneBehind: https://www.change.org/p/alle-menschen-leavenoonebehind-jetzt-die-corona-katastrophe-verhindern-auch-an-den-außengrenzen

All of the solidarity and messages we have received over the past month has showed us that we are not alone and that together we will be stronger: human rights are non-negotiable.
Efxaristo and thank you to our neighbours, our local suppliers and supporters, our helpers, our partners, our volunteers and all our supporters over the world!
Thank you to all the partner organizations on the ground, who, side by side, helped in building, running and creating this community.”

Due to the Covid-19 lockdown in Greece, our lawyer hasn’t been able to get the full police report. We are still awaiting this information.

News from the Community Centre

Regular meetings
After the fire it was even more important for us to have a regular contact with our team. We are currently arranging meetings and get togethers on a regular basis with the coordination team and the board of One Happy Family but as well with the Coordinators of the School of Peace (see head picture).
Even though the curfew and the current situation on the island has slowed everything down: We are together in this, ready to clean and rebuild a school and make the main building accessible again as soon as possible.
One Happy Family will never be the same, the shade of the fire will always be present. But as long as this place is needed on the island of Lesvos, we – together with all our amazing helpers and supporters on the island - are going to do our best to make One Happy Family colourful and busy again, as soon as possible!

Updates on the progress of cleaning and rebuilding
The burnt area of the School of Peace has to be demolished completely before we can use this area again. A local construction company will do this, as soon as it is possible.
At the same time our local electrician and amazing maintenance friend Michalis is working, together with Faraz our carpenter, on re-establishing the electricity and water supply again at OHF.
Once this is completed, and as soon as it is allowed by the Greek government to clean the whole area, our team on the ground is ready to do so. As always, with a smile and with the will to make OHF accessible as soon as possible.
How exactly OHF will look and be like after reopening is still unsure.
cleaning OHF

The situation on Lesvos

Amount of people stuck in the camps
As of 25th of March, there are 19,283 people stuck in Moria RIC. On Samos there are 7,264 living at Vathy. On Chios 5,363, on Leros 2,118, and on Kos 2,969. Be reminded that the official capacity for all of these camps together is 6,095 yet the current occupancy is 36,997. The total number of asylum seekers on the islands – living as the above mentioned numbers in the biggest camps and outside of the camps - is 40,703 (official numbers of the Ministry of citizen protection, Hellenic Republic).

Greece suspends asylum
Greece decided that the right to ask for asylum will be suspended from 1st of March for a month and no asylum requests will be processed in this time. Government spokesman Stelios Petsas added that migrants will be returned immediately if possible, without being registered. This procedure clearly violates both International and European law. The European Union were slow to react, and at one point the EU executive warned Greece to uphold the right to asylum. The UNHCR stated clearly that Greece has no right to stop accepting asylum applications.

New arrivals on Lesvos after suspension of right to asylum
People that arrived after the Greek statement that asylum claims are suspended, have had to stay at the beaches or the ports where they arrived. Many were brought to the port of Mytilini, where they had to stay in closed-off areas. Some, mainly families, have been transferred to stay in a Hellenic Navy vessel that came for this purpose to Lesvos. Following this, these families have been brought to closed camps in the north of mainland Greece.

Fire in Moria
On the 16th of March, a huge fire broke out in Moria RIC. A 6-year old girl died and the shelters for almost 200 people were destroyed. We lack words, to describe our grief and anger about this tragedy. We fully support the statement of Stephan Oberreit (MSF Greece) who says "European and Greek authorities who continue to contain people in such inhumane conditions have a responsibility in the repetition of these dramatic episodes. How many times we have to see the tragic consequences of this inhuman policy of containment before we urgently evacuate people out of the hell of Moria.”
The fire might have been started from a gas cooking stove, often the only possibility for the people to get food.

Camps on the islands put on lockdown
At least until 21st of April the camps have been put on lockdown. This means that no visitors – including members of NGOs and agencies – are allowed in. All special activities in the camps such as schools, libraries and exercise areas have been suspended as well.
People living in Moria RIC are only allowed to leave the camp in a maximum group of 100 people. Only 1 member per family can go to the city to get necessary supplies and items.

Curfew for residents of Lesvos
The residents of Lesvos are not allowed to go outside their homes anymore, only for specific reasons like essential travel to work, or to the supermarket etc. This measure is in place until 6th of April, but will likely be extended.

Trial against residents of Lesvos after attack on NGO workers
Seven residents had to face a trial against them for attacking NGO workers on Lesvos. They have been found guilty for charges like disturbing the peace, verbal abuse and causing bodily harm to two aid workers.
Also on Samos residents have been identified and arrested on the charges of vandalizing private property and arson.

Non-permanent residents not able to go to the islands anymore
To prevent Covid-19 from reaching the islands the Greek government decided that non-permanent residents are no longer allowed to travel to the Aegean Islands. Another reason is the concern that the healthcare system on the islands wouldn’t be able to cope with an outbreak. This measure is currently only on boat travels, not on flights, although flights to the islands have been massively reduced.

What if Covid-19 reaches the Camps?
Until today, 30th of March, 5 cases of Covid-19 infections have been confirmed on Lesvos, one of whom was working in the medical field. One of these infected people died from Covid-19. So far, no case has been reported from the camps Moria or Kara Tepe.

When Coronavirus reaches the Camps on the Aegean Islands, for example in Moria, this will result in a human catastrophe. The conditions are the opposite to any recommendation given by Governments and health professionals around the world.
There are only around 400 taps and there is no soap available. It’s NGOs that try to fill this gap by giving out soap and installing hand sanitizers around the camp. There are around 300 toilets and 230 showers available for the 20,000 people in and outside of Moria RIC.
The cramped conditions make infection prevention impossible.
“It would be impossible to contain an outbreak in such camp settings in Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos. To this day, we have not seen a credible emergency plan to protect and treat people living there”
(Dr. Hilde Vochten, MSF Medical Coordinator in Greece, https://www.msf.org.uk/article/covid-19-evacuation-squalid-greek-camps-more-urgent-ever-light-coronavirus-pandemic).

Medical centre opens outside camp
A medical centre was opened on Saturday 28th of March, outside of Moria. This facility is for the first assessment of possible Covid-19 cases. According to Kostas Moutzouris, the North Aegean Regional Governor, the facility will be open throughout the week and on weekends. In the next days, more medical centres will be opened outside the Reception Centres on Samos and Chios.

Suspension of monthly allowance payments for asylum seekers
On Thursday 26th of March, the monthly allowance payments to asylum seekers, were suspended by the Greek government indefinitely under the pretext of the corona virus. The reason being, is that the ATMs in Mytilini and other towns have been too crowded. The people will not be able to get their 90 Euro allowance per person by the United Nations.
The allowance is supposed to start flowing again when ATMs are installed in the camps but this is unlikely to happen fast. Months ago, the idea of installing ATMs in the camps had begun, but so far nothing has been done since the procedure is complex requiring high security and bank agreement.
This will have a huge impact on their well-being. Refugees must buy food because the food lines within the camps are extremely long and the food they get is often uncooked or for other reasons not eatable. And people will run out of phone credit which will limit access to online information and restrict contact with their surroundings.

No transfers until 31st of May 2020
Until the end of May all transfers, pending final asylum decisions, will be suspended. Transfers of cases that have been previously decided will go ahead as well as ESTIA (Emergency support to integration and accommodation) by the UNHCR.

What can you do?

Inform yourself about the situation and raise awareness of the situation!
We try to get politicians involved as much as possible, but we need your support too.
The petition “Europe must act” that has been signed by many of you.
Now the petition “Leave no one behind” needs your support: https://www.change.org/p/leavenoonebehind-jetzt-die-corona-katastrophe-verhindern-auch-an-den-außengrenzen
Please sign and share and make – even in times of Corona – a clear statement FOR human rights! You can also do it by doing a contact-less protest:
Along with many other organizations we appeal to you all to install a banner on your window or balcony in order to show our unabated demand for instant response of LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND. Let’s take a stand together against ignorance and for international solidarity!
(See for example Potsdam Konvoi: https://www.potsdam-konvoi.de/politische-aspekte/aufruf-zur-solidarisierung-mit-den-menschen-in-den-ueberfuellten-elendslagern-auf-den-griechischen-inseln/
and Seebrücke: https://seebruecke.org)

Support to who?
If you want to support the rebuilding of OHF or our ongoing costs like rent, we are more than thankful.
But with One Happy Family closed temporarily we also want to tell you who else needs your support in this emergency situation:

For Emergency Medical Support: Medical Volunteers International, https://medical-volunteers.org/de/

To support the Olive Grove: Movement on the ground, https://movementontheground.com

To support organizations working with minors: Better Days, https://www.betterdays.ngo and Synyparxi, https://m.facebook.com/groups/siniparxi/?ref=group_header&view=group and their bank details:
ACCOUNT NUMBER : 6355-138560-788 EUR
IΒΑΝ : GR 07 0171 3550 0063 5513 8560 788
VAT 099830186

To support hygiene measures: The Lava project: https://thelavaproject.org

To support Legal aid: Legal Centre Lesvos, https://legalcentrelesvos.org

Please find more information on their website. Thank you for your support for all the people on Lesvos!
Content: Jael Tobler
Date: 30.3.2020
One Happy Family | https://ohf-lesvos-org | info@ohf-lesvos.org | @ohflesvos
CH23 0079 0016 9736 1524 7 (CHF) | CH36 0079 0016 9737 1172 2 (EUR)
CH-3400 Burgdorf, Switzerland
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