Living in Athens
For the last few years, the transfer from the Aegean islands to Athens was viewed by many as something positive, as they could finally leave the hell of the camps in the islands behind them. However, this transfer, officially organised or independently, did not have a positive effect for many. After the transfer, some got a place in a camp near Athens, but they often have to move a lot between camps, making integration even more difficult. After receiving a positive asylum decision and Greek documents, there are minimal support accommodation or integration programmes. At the moment, it is very difficult to get accurate numbers of people transferred from the islands and living in Athens, as many of them are kept in limbo after this transfer. However, “street sources” seem to point out that many people are stranded in Athens and want to move on. Many Greeks themselves have no chance at finding a job, which is even harder for people on the move. The situation of being “stranded” has now shifted from the islands to Athens, with many NGOs trying to support these communities.
ESTIA accommodation programme raises questions
The ESTIA shelter programme quickly faltered after the Greek government took its management over from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in late 2020. Now, local media are reporting how flat owners, employees, organisations and municipal companies across Greece involved in the implementation of the ESTIA project are in despair over months of delays and unpaid rents, costs and suppliers. However, there is one important exception – the highly controversial “NGO” HopeTen (formerly Hopeland), which appeared out of nowhere in 2020 without having previously been involved in refugee assistance, and after the government introduced strict registration requirements for other NGOs. The organisation, which has been accused of corruption and money laundering, is the only one of at least 20 implementing partners to have received its payments, according to an investigation carried out by journalists.
A fence amid the tension between Greece and Turkey
Greek Migration Minister, Notis Mitarakis, has announced that the steel fence on the mainland border between Turkey and Greece is to be extended from around 40 to 120 kilometres to prevent migration from Turkey. The announcement comes at a time where tensions continue to flare between Athens and Ankara, which have long been at odds over natural gas and territories as well as irregular migration.
According to Greek media reports, there are fears that the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, could use migrants as leverage again, as he did in 2020 when he declared the Evros border with Greece open, provoking thousands of people to flock there. Therefore, in March 2020, Greece stepped up border patrols and installed cameras, radar and a steel fence 40 kilometres long and over five metres high in some areas.
Greek Civil Protection Minister, Takis Theodorikakos, said on Sunday 29 May that the number of attempted irregular entries had increased significantly in recent months: “Some 40,000 people have been prevented from entering the country at the Evros border since the beginning of the year alone,” he told Skai television. “We effectively repel any threat to our country, to our borders,” Theodorikakos said. He added that Greece would not tolerate “traffickers of desperate people.”
Three fathers sentenced to 439 years’ imprisonment
Border-line Europe reported on the trial of three Syrian survivors, Abdallah J., Kheiraldin A. and Mohamad B., who were given 18 life sentences on 5 May in Syros. The three men agreed to steer an overcrowded boat with 80 people on board from Turkey to Italy on 24 December 2021 so that they could get a discount for the crossing from the people smugglers. The boat capsized off the Greek island of Paros and 18 people lost their lives. Commenting on the verdict that has sentenced the three survivors to a total of 439 years in prison, Border-line Europe said: “Although the court acknowledged that they were not smugglers acting for profit, the three fathers were nevertheless convicted of “facilitating unauthorised entry.” Spiegel journalist Giorgos Christides stated: “Dystopian fiction couldn’t make this stuff up – five centuries worth of prison sentences handed out to three asylum seekers for “facilitating unauthorised entry”.”
According to Border-line Europe, “for several years the Greek state has been systematically bringing such charges against migrants arriving on the Greek islands. The arrests that follow these often unfounded accusations of smuggling are arbitrary and the trials violate basic standards of fairness. Without sufficient evidence, they are usually arrested on arrival and held in pre-trial detention for months.” Furthermore, the organisation notes that “when their case finally comes to court, trials last on average only 38 minutes, resulting in an average sentence of 44 years and fines of over 370,000 euros.”
Another fire on Lesvos
Another fire, another sign that the so-called “safe camps” are a danger to people on the move. On Sunday 29 May, for the fourth time in the last six months, a large tent caught fire in the camp on Lesvos, the same place where many other fires have broken out. The safety of those seeking protection is not guaranteed and European politicians continue to turn a blind eye. People are threatened by the high probability of fires in the tents. The fire was most probably due to technical problems with cables and electricity, and it has burnt many important and valuable belongings of its residents, such as their smartphones, clothes and especially their documents. The latter leads to them being stuck even longer in the procedure because of the terrible asylum system. At the same time, it is mentioned again and again that the Kara Tepe Reception and Identification Centre remains as temporary. The reason is that the Ministry of Immigration still wants to move the facility to Vastria (a very remote place in the island), where it will be “closed and controlled”. The contractor should complete the project by early summer 2023.