Obser­va­tions at the Campsite of Moria on Lesvos, October 22nd and 24th, 2015

Die deutsche Version finden Sie hier: https://fabior­ein­hardt.de/?p=438116>

This report was sent on November 6th, 2015 to the President of the Berlin House of Repre­sen­ta­tives, the President of the European Parliament, the chairman of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, the European Commission Repre­sen­tation in  Germany, the German embassy in Athens and the German association of journa­lists.

1. General situation at the campsite

I am an accre­dited journalist and member of the German association of journa­lists DFJV. Also, I am a member of the Berlin House of Repre­sen­ta­tives, working in the field of refugees and asylum. I arrived on the Greek island of Lesvos on October 20th, 2015 in order to gain an overview of the situation of arriving migrants and to talk to people involved. I visited several UNHCR-campsites and police regis­tration facilities. One of the recently most discussed facilities for migrants is the camp near Moria and Mytilene. Although having existed before, it has been officially labeled as one of eleven EU-Hotspots since October 16th. Migrants arriving on Lesvos from Turkey on boats have to be regis­tered there or in Karatepe to be allowed to leave the island. On 22nd and 24th October I had a firsthand look at the regis­tration process which turned out to be slow and painful. Migrants from different nations stood in lines in front of the inner regis­tration facility for a very long time. There was no structure visible and several people were showing their lack of trust in the fairness of the regis­tration procedure. The waiting period was tough with enduring rain that had been going on for days and the lack of shelter on site. I saw migrants that had swollen feet, were unable to stand and could hardly bear the pain. The long term conse­quences from this physical suffering are not foreseable. Many people on site were suffering from hypothermia, standing shivering or lying on the ground. There were also reports of pregnant women losing their babies, and lifeless and suppo­sedly dead people that suffered from standing shelterless in the rain during the regis­tration process. I would also like to point out that there was no identi­fi­cation procedure for persons belonging to vulne­rable groups (ill persons, unaccom­panied minors, pregnant women, trauma­tized persons, victims of torture etc.).

It was especially painful to watch was the non-existent infor­mation policy on site. On the evening of October 24th I noticed migrants waiting for the beginning of the regis­tration process outside the door of the southern facility building. It was obvious that they were not given any proper infor­mation about the nature and duration of the procedure or the overall situation in the camp. Instead, the camp police was treating people in a very disre­spectful manner. They were shouting commands in Greek at them for no obvious reason instead of speaking sentences. No trans­la­tions were provided by the police. Also, they clapped their batons on objects to make noise, obviously in order to make people afraid and eager to comply with given commands. This was additio­nally disturbing as there was no visible lack of compliance. It was obvious that no syste­matic approach, including for example the use of trans­lators and the provision of an overview over the regis­tration procedure, was in place.

Whilst being on site, I was faced with numerous reports by migrants of abuse and mistreatment by police guards. On October, 23rd there were repor­tedly two suicide attempts by minors during their stay in the facility. The whole matter of unaccom­panied minors would actually be worth a separate letter. The proce­dures on site do not take into account that minors need a guardian to leave the island. However, guardians are not available for a long period of time, leaving the affected interned against their will and without committing any wrong­doing. Overall, the police on site was feared and sometimes also hated by the migrants. More remar­kably, the police, or in other words the state, respon­sible for the camp was not feeling respon­sible for anything outside the regis­tration facility. There was no sight of them organizing shelter or giving out food and drinks. UNHCR, private organi­za­tions and independent volun­teers from several nations had to step in and replace the lack of necessary state support for the dependent people. Without any doubt, without their support the situation would have been utterly and unbea­rably worse.

2. Eyewitness report of police actions

On October 22nd, around 9 pm, a companion and I were watching the queues outside the regis­tration facility on campsite. It was raining heavily but nobody was being regis­tered or let inside the inner area. Instead of explaining the procedure, people were told in Greek to sit down. Then, without any visible cause, around a dozen police officers, equipped with helmets, shields and batons approached the gate from the inside of the southern main regis­tration facility. At that time, I was filming the scene from a distance. There had not been any problems entering the camp site and there were no visible signs regarding filming or photo­gra­phing on site. Suddenly, I was shouted at from inside the facility to stop filming, which I did. Then, two masked men in civilian dresses, equipped with batons, rushed up to me and my companion, dragging us towards the facility. Our demands to give reasons for that kind of behavior, to identify themselves and show any form of regis­tration were ignored. We were pushed into the facility and dragged inside a building to the right, fully equipped with about a dozen finger­print scanners and some computers.

Inside, we were neither shown nor told the identi­fi­cation of the people involved (no identi­fi­cation number, no name or position) nor given a legal basis for their behavior. Instead we were being inter­ro­gated for a full 90 minutes by up to eight people. Some of them were masked, some unmasked, some were equipped with batons and toyed them around. From the beginning I showed them my valid inter­na­tional press card and informed them that I was a member of the Berlin House of Repre­sen­ta­tives. We were told to hand over any video or photo material taken in the camp. Then they took our video camera, connected it to a computer, browsed through the videos and tried unsuc­cess­fully to erase a number of videos. They also wanted us to unlock all three of our phones in order to browse through the data which we denied pointing out the lack of legal grounds. However, we did delete several pictures on the phones as requested.

After the inter­ro­gation, we were handed over to three local police men, carrying us to the office for migration purposes at Mytilene police station. They took our names and data including my press creden­tials into their computer and on paper, releasing us after­wards in a rather unspec­ta­cular manner. They pointed out that we were not consi­dered to be under arrest.

In the whole process mentio­nable points were:

  • We were not given any infor­mation and still do not know which police force was detaining and questioning us, which units were involved or any names of the acting indivi­duals.

  • We were not given a specific law or ruling for our alleged wrong­doing. We were not supposed to ask for any legal grounds as this was under­stood as to question the authority of the police.

  • The several times we asked if we were officially under arrest, we were given several varying answers depending on the situation. When I pointed out that we should be released or be given the right to call a lawyer, the demand was rejected. Later, I was told, first we would have to unlock our cell phones. The whole inter­ro­gation procedure, including the time at the Mytilene police station, lasted for more than three hours. During that time we were not able to move freely or continue watching the situation in Moria. This can be only be labeled as detention.

  • During the inter­ro­gation we were not given fresh water despite demands.

  • Finally, I want to point out a related political matter. During the inter­ro­gation I was told by several indivi­duals that the situation on site is only so difficult because there is a lack of personnel from the Greek and European side. While I can under­stand that point, it seemed and still seems quite absurd to me to take press / political observers into the room that is supposed to be for regis­tration purposes and to use it for hours for an inter­ro­gation, especially as the inter­ro­gation was completely obsolete and also lacking legal grounds. The police personnel present could and should have been used for regis­tering migrants instead.

3. Respon­si­bility of the European Commission for above issues

Regarding the respon­si­bility of the European Union and especially the European Commission for the whole affair, I want to point out that neither the situation on the campsite nor the treatment of press / foreign politi­cians on site can be labeled as just a national matter of the Greek autho­rities. On numerous occasions the European Commission made it clear that it bears respon­si­bility for the operation of the eleven EU hotspots and supports them through various means:

  • On July 15th, 2015, Commis­sioner Avramo­poulos stated in a letter and expla­natory note to the Justice and Home Affairs Ministers the aim of the “’Hotspot‘ approach” was “to provide compre­hensive and targeted support by the EU Agencies to frontline Member states”. He included details “setting out the way in which this approach is imple­mented in practice in Italy and Greece, taking into account legal, financial and opera­tional aspects”. [1]

    In such a ‚Hotspot‘ approach, the European Asylum Support Office, Frontex and Europol will work on the ground with frontline Member States to swiftly identify, register and finger­print incoming migrants. The work of the agencies will be comple­mentary to one another. Those claiming asylum will be immediately channelled into an asylum procedure where EASO support teams will help to process asylum cases as quickly as possible.“ [2]

    „On the ground, opera­tional coordi­nation is necessary. For practical reasons that would consist of an EU Regional Task Force (EURTF) respon­sible for the overall coordi­nation of the work of the different teams of experts involved in the “Hots­pot” approach and the infor­mation exchange among these teams.“ [2]

    A roadmap on the imple­men­tation of the described approach was attached. [2]

  • On September 29th the European Commission released an annex to the Commu­ni­cation from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council named „Managing the refugees crisis: immediate opera­tional, budgetary and legal measures under the European Agenda on Migra­tion“. [3]

  • On October 8th the European Commission sent out a press release stating that they were “con­fident that the Greek autho­rities are rapidly imple­menting the hotspot approach“ and quoting Commis­sioner Avramo­poulos: „Greece and Italy should now finalise the rollout of the hotspot teams“. [4]

  • On October 16th Commis­sioner Avramo­poulos visited the campsite on Lesvos and stated after­wards: „The hotspots consist of experts teams deployed by European agencies namely Frontex, Europol, Eurojust and EASO as well as by Member States and of course by the Greek autho­rities. These teams ensure that the procedure is finalised quickly and that in a legal manner, the asylum appli­cants are included in the relocation scheme.“[5]

By sending out these and several other press releases and commu­ni­ca­tions the European Commission made it clear that it bears respon­si­bility for both the situation on the ground, especially for the treatment of migrants awaiting the obligatory regis­tration procedure in Moria and other Hotspots and also for the treatment of press and civilians in general, and for following national and inter­na­tional law on these sites. I want to point out the whole regis­tration process is nowhere close to what the Commission has tried to make the public believe it is and the situation of the people arriving from the coast of Lesvos can only be labeled as disastrous and desperate.

Treatment of Migrants

With steady numbers of incoming migrants, dropping tempe­ra­tures and hardening weather situa­tions during the coming winter months, it has to be assumed that we are nearing a humani­tarian catastrophe on Lesvos and the campsite of Moria. As the European Union labelled the Moria regis­tration camp a EU hotspot it bears direct and full respon­si­bility for this.

I advise drastic measures to improve the situation on site. This includes the following:

  • A functioning and quick regis­tration process is required. Until this can be imple­mented an option to leave the island without full regis­tration is necessary. A temporary method for quickly issuing legal papers needs to be imple­mented immediately.

  • Migrants are to be informed at all times about their rights, their situation and the status quo of their procedure. There should be a suffi­cient amount of inter­preters of the languages commonly spoken by people arriving on site.

  • Migrants are to be treated with respect and dignity. That includes no unpro­voked and unnecessary shouting or clapping with batons and other objects to produce sounds, no mistreatment and abuse. Inter­na­tional observers must have full rights to view the process in the camp.

  • The regis­tration procedure has to be organized in a manner that gives way to the need of vulne­rable migrants. There may not be a way of „Survival (or in this context ‚regis­tration‘) of the fittest“.

  • During the unavoi­dable waiting periods, migrants are to be provided with accep­table shelter, food, water, medical and psycho­lo­gical treatment. Volun­teers and UN organi­za­tions cannot be left alone with this task. Additio­nally, infor­mation of contact persons for all relevant fields, including psycho­lo­gical treatment, has to be available for migrants and volun­teers.

  • A fast-track way to deal with unaccom­panied minors has to be imple­mented immediately. If the Greek autho­rities cannot provide enough guardians to accompany minors from the island this should be deemed an inter­na­tional task and there should be calls for qualified guardians from all over Europe to come to Lesvos and accompany minors to the Greek mainland and/or other European countries. Detainment of lawful migrants and especially of minors must be avoided at all times!

  • Greek autho­rities have to be urged to and supported in following these points to avoid suffering, long term psycho­lo­gical and physical harms or even deaths of migrants on site.

Treatment of Press

Furthermore the European Commission should urge Greek autho­rities and other European autho­rities that the treatment of press, foreign politi­cians and other observers on site is compa­tible with inter­na­tional law and treaties. This especially means:

  • Actions by masked, ununi­formed and / or uniden­tified personnel acting with state consent and in the name of Greek or EU autho­rities are not accep­table.

  • Arrests or in that manner any police actions without giving the exact legal grounds on which basis this action is based are not accep­table.

  • Arrests without the right to call a lawyer and inter­ro­ga­tions without an adequate trans­lation are not accep­table.

  • Attempts to gain access to cell phones or other commu­ni­cation devices or to view, manipulate or erase video or photo material are not accep­table, especially not from inter­na­tional press and without a legal basis.

[1] http://www.state­watch.org/news/2015/jul/eu-com-commis­sioner-letter.pdf

[2] http://www.state­watch.org/news/2015/jul/eu-com-hotsposts.pdf

[3] http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/european-agenda-migration/proposal-imple­men­tation-package/docs/commu­ni­cation_on_managing_the_refugee_crisis_annex_2_en.pdf

[4] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-15-5799_en.htm

[5] http://avramo­poulos.gr/en/content/remarks-commis­sioner-avramo­poulos-athens-following-his-visit-lesvos-16102015

Further infor­mation here: https://n64.cc/category/outsi­de­berlin/

On Wednesday, November 11th, Fabio and Chucky talk about their experi­ences on the Balkan route: https://n64.cc/?p=1401

Die deutsche Version finden Sie hier: https://fabior­ein­hardt.de/?p=438116>

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