Category 4: Government
In the summer of 2019 the conservative party Nea Dimokratia won the elections for the Greek parliament and prime minister. This election worsened many things for migrants, solidarians, anarchists and all involved in emancipatory struggle. Before writing about this new situation for migrants and solidarians on Lesvos, we want to take a brief look at Nea Dimokratia and the Greek electoral democracy.
Around two months ago, on October 7th, seven members in leading positions of the fascist party Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) were convicted for heading a criminal organization while 61 other members were found guilty of participating in a criminal organization. This sentence was rightly celebrated by antifascists in Greece, Europe and all over the world. But although some fascists are now in prison, much of the content of the electoral program of Chrysi Avgi – especially the politics of ‘law and order’, ‘border safety’ and the focus on ‘Greek people’ (whatever this is) – was taken up by Nea Dimokratia which is now the ruling party in Greece. Therefore, by influencing the social imaginary, Chrysi Avgi reached their goal of having an impact on daily politics in Greece although they’re not part of the government – something we can see all over Europe and the world as ruling parties adopt the ideas of right-wing populists to gain votes. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the election of Nea Dimokratia has had a bad impact on migrants and solidarians.
Of course, a government consisting of a conservative party (which has absorbed fascist ideas) is already bad enough, but in addition to this, the Greek electoral democracy is highly centralized with much power belonging to the government and especially the prime minister. This fact will be of importance when writing about the role of the police on Lesvos in September and when having a look at the relationship between the police and the government. We could observe this centralization and the relation of the police and the government in the last year: since the election of Nea Dimokratia, many squats got evicted, antifascist demonstrations were often crushed and the Covid-19 pandemic was used as an excuse for measurements that strengthened the power of the state. There is much one could write about the repression of the Greek government, but we want to focus on the impact on migrants and solidarians. Therefore – and although it’s not always possible to seperate these two categories – we first want to highlight government policy concerning migrants on Lesvos and, second, policy concerning solidarians.
To be clear, our critique isn’t only about this Greek government in particular. Of course, a racist and capitalist government with tendencies towards fascism is worse than an antifascist government. But we need to accept the fact that the state as a concept isn’t conceivable without clarified borders and therefore any state will protect its borders – sometimes by means of war against the bordering states but also sometimes by pushing back migrants who try to overcome these borders. Therefore, we don’t only want to argue for another government or for reform of existing government but for the abolition of the government and the state in total. Because only when there is no state, no government or any other authority telling people where they can and cannot move will we fulfill unconditional freedom of movement for everyone. There is no government like no government.
Measurements concerning migrants
Since the election of the conservative-right Nea Dimokratia and the subsequent appointment of Mitsotaki as prime minister in 2019, the situation for refugees and migrants on Lesvos became dramatically worse. Even the worst fears have been exceeded. The following text will explain what that looks like and how the Greek government and its racist migration policy affects refugees and migrants.
First, we will draw attention to the situation for migrants before the fire in Moria on September 8th and analyse the consequences of the government’s policies. The main focus of greek government policy is the ] oppression and imprisonment of migrants. From the beginning of this legislative period, the governments ‘master plan’ was to restructure the overcrowded refugee camps into “closed centers” – which basically means the construction of detention facilities. Moria, already known as the largest open-air prison in Europe, was to be surrounded by a gigantic fence worth €854.000. The migrants were supposed to be made more invisible to the public by not letting them leave the camp. Furthermore, the already difficult access to legal, humanitarian, and political support was to be more or less denied to the migrants. With the plan of a closed camp, the government could also reinforce the idea of destroying much of the existing solidarity structures for migrants.
With the uprise of Covid-19 in Europe in February, the government saw an opportunity to push the idea of a closed camp further once again. The goal was and is the complete control of the migrants and their spatial isolation. Therefore, the government urged for more regulations to separate the migrants even more from the local population in Mytilene and to control the movement of the camp residents. During the pandemic lockdown the migrants were even more locked up in Moria than before. Only a few could leave the camp to buy necessities or to see a doctor. With isolation sounding pretty okay in times of a pandemic, we should keep in mind that there was no chance of required isolation or social distancing inside camp Moria. Nor was it possible to ensure appropriate hygienic conditions. It would be a bad joke thinking of the closure of Moria as a gesture to protect migrants from the pandemic as it serves only to regulate and control themselves.
Concurrent to the plans for a closed camp, the government also pursued the goal of speeding up asylum procedures and deportations. These fast-track-procedures affected, amongst others, migrants who were detained in prison immediately after their arrival by boat on Lesvos. The right to a fair asylum procedure and individual examination was thereby in fact abolished. Detaining newly arrived migrants in prisons without any reason is not only illegal, but also constitutes a massive violation of basic human rights. According to the Greek government, the asylum process in the camp should also be accelerated, so that at the beginning of 2020 many cases were rushed through.
What sounds good in the first place means another dead end in the second: since March, migrants with a positive asylum decision didn’t receive any financial support from the government. From two months after the positive decision of their asylum process on, they are completely on their own. The hopes and dreams of migrants to find better living conditions on the mainland in cities like Athens or Thessaloniki often get bitterly shattered. Especially Athens often means a further lack of prospects for migrants – also due to the government’s repressive actions against solidarity networks. Spirou Trikoupi 17 for example – a migrant squat in Exarcheia – was evicted last year, along with several other squats that served as safe spaces for migrants to live. Even though some squats and structures managed to resist evictions by now, they also face a lot of other kinds of repression.
Getting back to Lesvos, however, the plan to build a fence around Moria has not been realized. As we know, the whole camp burnt down and the answer of the police and military forces was repression and violence. Therefore, we want to give a brief overview on how the government dealt with the “arsonists”. The prosecuted individuals were directly identified as residents of the camp, accused without any evidence. In the days after the fire, the government put a lot of effort into finding some “perpetrators”. The Ministry for Development & Investment showed their racist side and announced: “We do not feel in any way obliged to build new houses for them, every time they burn down the houses, we build for them”. There is so much garbage in this sentence but to speak about “houses” is unbelievable. It seems that the whole government already knew before that the “perpetrators” must be among the migrants.
Only 10 days after the fire, the chief of the police, the Minister of Asylum and Migration and the Minister of Justice presented the results of the so-called “investigation” and announced that the perpetrators were found. Activists decried this procedure as a violation of the division of (legislative, executive, and judiciary) power and called on us to pay special attention to this political case. We need to keep in mind that the government focused intentionally on the question of the “arsonists” to create the image of the violent, criminal and incendiary migrant as the enemy. This image has already been popularized by the right. Much of the media coverage uncritically adopts this framing and focuses entirely on the “perpetrator”. A lot of media institutions have no interest in baring the racist reality of Fortress Europe. It’s always easier to write about some single “perpetrators” than to actually examine the political reasons and structures. We insist that focus is kept on the real problem here – the racist EU border regime – and not on the question of who ‘really’ started the fire. And we reiterate: if the fire was set by migrants, it was an absolutely justifiable means in their struggle for freedom.
In the following section the focus is on the governmental measures at the “new camp”. More than three months ago, the fire broke out and most of the people lost everything in the flames. We saw that the government built up a “new camp”, which is even worse than Moria. Not only are the living conditions more precarious; the Covid-19 restrictions are also stricter. It must be emphasized again that the main goal of the government is the imprisonment of the migrants and not to ensure their health. By now, only a few people can leave the camp. Probably, the only reason why the government has not closed the camp already is the insufficient and bad food supply. Moria was never safe, but still some people were able to build shops of their own initiative, supplementing the official food supply.
In the new camp, there is nearly no infrastructure. In addition to the absence of supermarkets or other possibilities for self-supply, the restrictions inside the camp are getting more repressive as e.g. cooking is prohibited. The government wants to prohibit every spark of independence of the migrants – although that is, inevitably, not working. Still people are making tea and finding creative ways to cook their own food. A few weeks ago, the greek goverment annouced the construction of another new “camp” in the middle of nowhere – kilometers away from the city – next year. Migration minister Mitarachi seemed to be happy telling the reporters: “We are moving forward with an ambitious, EU-funded programme for closed camps… facilities where entry will be controlled… Camps with NATO-style double enclosure”. By then, they will control every step of the migrants and their imprisonment would be complete. We continue to demand the evacuation of the migrants from this fucking island!
Beyond racist policies concerning the living conditions, the government is also attempting other means of ‘getting rid of the migrants’: on October 8, exactly one month after the fire in Moria, the Ministry for Migration and Asylum made a public call for so-called ‘voluntary return’. Just to be clear, ‘voluntary return’ means deportation. Only first the state makes life so miserable for people that maybe they agree to it. So, after trying to make it impossible for migrants to reach the Aegean islands, the government still wants to make the people who made it leave. This goal was also supported by an agreement with Afghanistan to take back ‘rejected asylum seekers’.
All in all, the Greek government issues one racist decision after another. In the near future, they will focus on the plan to build up a closed camp in the middle of nowhere and – as always – to not give a shit about the living conditions and basic human rights of migrants. The greek goverment wants to stop migration across the Aegean Sea entirely in the future. The goals of the goverment fit in with the policies of the EU, which is European isolation. The consequences are even stricter border controls, asylum laws and the construction of massive border fences, as along the River Evros. The primary goal of the EU is to “protect” the external borders of Europe. This strategy does not put a stop to migration, but rather makes it more dangerous and deadly. This is most horribly demonstrated in the overcrowded, capsized boats off the Canary Islands. Greece’s repressive and inhuman isolation policy needs to be understood as embedded in the overall development of racist EU policies. By accepting the racist aspirations of the Nea Dimokratia, the EU is responsible for the death of thousands of refugees.
Measurements concerning solidarians
When writing about the relationship between the Greek government and solidarians, we could list dozens of attempts to criminalize NGOs and individuals who act in solidarity with migrants. But just focusing on such attempts in September 2020, there were some cases that showed in an exemplary way how the government tries to deal with solidarians. It’s important to note that racist and repressive policy targets migrants first of all, solidarians are only are affected as they try to act in solidarity with migrants or try to fight the ruling system and aren’t the target of racist policies per se.
Shortly before the fire occurred, on September 5th, there was a big police search at Mare Liberum, an organisation which is running a ship to surveil human rights violations of the Greek coastguards such as push-backs. With their reports, they made these human rights violations public and destroyed the invisibility of racist policies being enacted at the borders. As we already wrote multiple times, the greek state and EU want to keep their racism invisible, so documenting it for all to see is sure to garner their disapproval. Therefore, we can expect that the Greek government was interested in this police search – which was a perfect example of repression as some members of Mare Liberum are now confronted with legal costs and these forms of criminalization also work as a means to scare and exhaust people. Thie goal is that this leads to inaction which allows the Greek coastguard to go about their violation of human rights undisturbed. In the past few weeks, the investigations were expanded and affect as far as we know 33 people – mainly from SAR – and Human-Rights-Monitoring-Organizations such as Mare Liberum, Sea Watch, FFM e.V., Josoor and Alarm Phone/Watch the Med.
But also on the island, there were massive forms of repression: while on September 9th – the night of the fire – the prime minister already seemed sure about migrants setting the fire, two days later – the day the military asked NGOs for help distributing food – the government proclaimed that NGOs will face lawsuits for planning the fire together with migrants. If it could not be proven that NGOs were directly involved in the arson, the government already had an argument prepared as to why they were responsible: NGOs had created ‘an atmosphere of tension by reporting about the situation in Moria which let to the fires.’ Let that rest: in Moria, migrants had to live in an inhospitable environment for years and NGOs were making these cirumstances public and now, as migrants burned down their own prison, the NGOs which reported the bad situation were to be held responsible – instead of the government itself which was actually responsible for the dire conditions. In times of fake news, making a part of the reality visible to the public is more of a crime than creating this reality.
On September 18th – when the new camp was already opened and the government tried to make the people go to this camp – the government proclaimed that food distributions by NGOs were forbidden and any violations would have legal consequences such as fines. What makes this proclamation even more brutal is that on the same day, the ministry for migration and asylum openly admitted their strategy of pressuring the migrants on the streets through lack of food and water. So the same government, which didn’t fulfill their duty of providing food and water supply and medical treatment then threatened those people who actually provided these supplies. The threat worked for some NGOs as they had fear of being criminalized and stopped working with migrants at this time. But some NGOs and solidarians kept doing their work so the government had to take the next step: to call upon the migrants themselves.
Therefore, still on September 18th, the government also proclaimend via an official press release that ‘refugees shouldn’t trust anyone as the NGOs would take advantage of them, use them and don’t want their good.’ On the contrary, only the government could ‘guarantee the safety of the migrants’ – proclaimed the same government that admitted their strategy of pressuring migrants by lack of food and water. Some days ago, we could recognize the same arguments. The Greek ministry for migration and asylum blamed NGOs again – this time for the people dying in the Aegean sea. In a press release, the government quoted the pull effect which is discussed controversially in the scientific community: by providing a more or less safe environment for migrants, NGOs would attract people to try to get to Greece by boat and therefore be responsible for any deaths that occur in crossing. By this logic, it is not the state and its coastguard who force people to take the most dangerous routes possible who are responsible for deaths at sea. No, it’s the NGOs who provide food, water and medical treatment on the Aegean islands who are responsible.
After the opening of the new camp there was one case of repression against NGOs which illustates very clearly how this repression directly affects migrants: the closure of self-organized Pikpa camp. On September 23rd, the minister for migration and asylum proclaimed in cooperation with the ministry for work that Pikpa would be evicted by October 31st, which was changed four days later to October 15th. Pikpa was a camp that was run by solidarians who – in contrast to the head of camp Moria – really tried to meet the needs of the migrants. If we want to speak of Pikpa as a camp, it was maybe the best in Greece. But for the government, it was a place which wasn’t controllable: migrants, registered in Moria, but living in Pikpa more or less like they wanted with more or less freedom and more or less protection against deportation. But for the Greek government – like for all governments – control is essential. Therefore, there should be no other option for migrants but to live in the state provided facility where they can be closely monitored, controlled, kept invisible and deportable. So, Pikpa was evicted. The solidarians of Pikpa also were threatened with fines which we have yet to see be executed.