Lockdown in Greece
Since the beginning of November, Greece has been under a complete lock-down, with the restrictions expected to stay in place for most of December. Although the refugee camps were under an unjustified lockdown long before this, the second lockdown has affected its residents especially hard. Not only are basic “services” at the camps cut back, but also the asylum system as a whole came to a temporary halt and it is unclear if the overall processing of cases is continuing. This leaves the people inside the camps with even less food, worse hygiene and more uncertainty.
Leaving the camp during Lockdown
People are allocated 4 hour time slots by their police number in order to access their medical care, shopping and interviews. However, these times change regularly and are not consistent each week, so it can be confusing and challenging for the residents of the camp. If you are found to break any lockdown rules, you could face a fine of up to 300 euros.
Interviews seem to again be continuing during this lockdown, even if it is still very uncertain when the interviews will take place. After months of minimal interviews due to COVID and the fire at Moria, there has been a big push to get as many as possible completed.
Some insight into the current status of the interview procedure:
Three of our community helpers have had their interviews in the last month with very little time for preparation (for example, one of our volunteers was taken in for an interview the following day after he received his appointment time). While it is good to see that EASO (European Asylum Service Office) has commenced interviews again, we are cautious and critical of the minimal time in which people are being notified of their interview times, the time they have to prepare for them, and if this will impact the overall asylum process.
Facing restrictions of movement again, tensions rose amongst the more than 7’000 inhabitants of Moria 2.0, also called Mavrovouni Site. Still, one third of the tents are lacking flooring. The conditions are so harsh, that even locals demand improvements before winter is here. Since the beginning of November, 10 new cases of covid-19 were detected in the camp.
Fire and Death on Samos
In November, there were two fires in the camp on Samos, leaving 300 people without shelter. Previously, there were more cases of COVID detected amongst the people in the camp. Médecins Sans Frontières commented on the dire situation: “there is still no appropriate medical response plan in place” and that quarantine conditions “are unacceptable at best and dangerous at worst”.
A young boy died on November 8 when a boat got in distress near Samos. The father as well as the driver of the boat who survived the incident were arrested upon arrival. Both face more than 10 years in prison. Their lawyer argues that the police should investigate the delayed response of the coast guard instead.
Closed Camps are in the making
Greece is progressing rapidly on this issue: a working group consisting of the Ministry of Health, the National Public Health Organization, local authorities, the Hellenic Police, the armed forces, the fire brigade and international bodies, met on November 13 to coordinate the new closed structures. The working group will draw on the experiences made at Moria 2.0, also called Mavrovouni Site. The European Union is financing the construction of the closed camps on Samos, Kos and Leros with 121 million Euros.
2020 overview: Arrivals and deportations
A total of 14’761 persons is reported to have arrived in Greece this year so far: 5360 via the land border at Evros and 9’400 via the water across the Aegean Sea. These are very low numbers compared to 2019 when 59,726 arrived on the Islands and 14,887 crossed the land borders, adding to a total of over 74’000 people. The main nationalities crossing from Turkey in 2020 are Afghanistan (36.8%), Syria (19.1%), Turkey (12%) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (6.7%).
The Ministry of Migration reported that 5,793 people have been returned in the first 10 months of 2020. Out of this number, 2459 people were forcefully deported.
Forced or voluntarily, 181 left for Afghanistan, 66 for Syria, 161 for Turkey and 12 for the Democratic Republic of Congo. These countries are dubious safe places to return to. The bulk of returnees were Albanian nationals.
Additionally, 1,502 people were transferred due to the Dublin Agreement and 1,451 were relocated under different voluntary schemes, away from Greece. These are disappointingly low numbers, especially in regard to the currently 82,646 pending asylum applications and 4,976 appeals in Greece alone. Moreover, Greece admitted that they lost track of 32,000 people who had received a negative asylum decision.
Frontex, EU and the illegal pushbacks
After numerous reports about Frontex pushing pack boats into Turkish water, an internal inquiry into suspicious incidents was launched at the end of October. This resulted in the establishment of an evaluation committee which said it hasn’t found evidence of Frontex’s involvement in push backs so far. Following a freedom of information request, some emails were published which indicate that the Hellenic Coast Guard gave orders to push back, and that a Danish boat which is part of the Frontex fleet refused to do so. (You can find more information here and here, and in the NYT)
In November alone, there were reports of 30 boats that were stopped by the Turkish Coast Guard and the Police. Slightly over 900 people were on these, and all have had their right to seek asylum in Greece taken away. In total, 8 boats arrived on the Aegean Islands carrying about 220 people.
Frontex signed a 100 million euro contract to buy drones from Airbus to identify migrants in the Mediterranean Sea (details here).