Category 9: the new camp and camps in Greece
In this section we want to focus on the new camp which is officially called Kara Tepe, but also known as Moria 2 or simply called the ‘new camp’. Besides outlining how the camps on Lesvos developed and how conditions were and are in these camps, we also want to give an overview of camps in Greece and – of course – want to emphazise why camps never should exist as a long term solution anywhere in the world.
In most cases non-governmental organizations (NGOs) take over governmental tasks. For the government, this relieves pressure and responsibility for the people in the camps and the reasons why camps exist. Through this daily business of (not) taking responsibility, there seems to be no place for a critique of the whole system and the bad and inhumane politics just continue. On the other hand, the existence of camps justifies the existence of the above mentioned NGOs which are needed so much because the state doesn’t take responsibility. These NGOs often can only exist and finance themselves because there are so many camps in the world, and in their cooperation with racist states, do play a role in making the camps a ‘viable’ option. It is a vicious circle which is always at the expense of the people who are forced to live in these camps; people who become statistics, totally objectified.
Camps are always places where people have very little autonomy, where any kind of self-actualization in terms of education, freedom of movement or (political) participation is made near impossible.There is a lack of places of retreat and privacy is restricted. Hygiene, security, medical care and supply of food and water are mostly insufficient. Human rights – as promised by NGOs – are always violated in these structures; these structures are not compatible with human rights.
Moria for example was first built as a short term transit camp for several hundred people, then was rebuilt for 2800 people in 2015. In 2016 – after the EU Turkey deal – it turned into big open air prison where more than 20000 people lived (find more details about this in category 1 / Moria). The brutal idea was that people would get deported back to Turkey quickly, but that never worked out. So this camp became a place of torture, violence, rape, crime, insecurity, domestic violence, ethnic conflicts. A place where human rights were permanently violated – on purpose. With the lockdown from March till September 2020 and the associated restrictions of freedom of movement for people who were living in Moria any possibilty to escape from the gruelling everyday life in the camp was removed – which, of course, also had a big impact on the physical and mental health of people. And at this moment regulations due to Corona are welcome for controlling people: even though there wasnt any Covid case until September 2, 2020 Moria remained closed.
It is clear that these bad living conditions are and were wanted by the Greek government – and also by the EU – to fullfill their inhumane policy of deterrence.
For all these reasons any kind of camp should always be seen as short term, transit or emergency solution. And really a camp is no solution at all: the solution would be an end to the Western neo-colonial and imperialist agression and exploitation that displaces people to begin with. The solution would be freedom to move and freedom to stay for all. In the meantime, we demand safe places and decentralized housing for migrants before/in/ after their asylum processes!
Camps on the Greek islands and the mainland
There are some facts we need to think about when writing about camps in Greece. First of all, on one hand camps are not a new institution as for many years they have been in Greece as a means of racist exclusion. In general the idea of camps is not new. In Greece camps especially built for Roma people, for example, have existed for a long time while on the other hand, migrant camps as we know them aren’t that old. In the summer of migration 2015, many migrants weren’t living in camps but were instead squatting buildings to get a living space for the short time they spent somewhere trying to get to the next place. Others just slept in parks or on the streets. Following the EU-Turkey-deal in 2016, five Greek islands of Chios, Samos, Leros, Kos and Lesvos then became so-called ‘hot spots’ – meaning it became legal to detain migrants on the island while their asylum process is being done. Quickly, camps were constructed as there were more people coming to the islands and less people leaving – as they no longer could. Following this, there’s at least one camp on each island where migrants are being detained under bad living conditions: Kara Tepe/Moria 2 on Lesvos, Vial on Chios, Vathy on Samos, Pyli on Kos and Lepida on Leros.
It’s important to note the bad living conditions, detainments and right-wing attacks in all these camps while the media focus is mostly just on Lesvos. All of these camp are prisons, unfit for anyone to live in: we need to fight all of them. We need to fight them because they all embody the same racist ideology. Pyli on Kos is for example censored on Google Maps just like Moria was – excluding the camps for public observation. Lepida on Leros is situated in the area of the Psychiatric Infirmary suggesting migrants are mentally ill. In Vial on Chios and Vathy on Samos, there were right-wing attacks and living conditions were so bad that migrants chose arson as a mean of protest – as in Moria. And all of the camps are situated in an outlying position, again excluding migrants from daily life in the cities and from having a voice in public.
Reading this, you may get the idea that the mainland is a better place as people aren’t detained in big camps there. Unfortunately wrong. There are multiple camps on the Greek mainland we’re not even able to list here. Some of them are near big cities or even within them like Malakassa, Schisto and Eleonas near/in Athens, but are in this case mostly locked up making it again impossible for migrants to interact with the locals. Many of them are – just like on the islands – far away from any kind of city or town like the ones in Thiva and Serres. Beyond state-run camps we also need to have a look at structures similar to camps where migrants have to live under bad conditions. If granted asylum in Greece, one stops getting financial support after two months. Therefore, many people try to get to the bigger cities, where they imagine it will be easier to survive and earn some money. For many of them this attempt ends with being without money on the streets. Being in the same situation, people sometimes get organized and set up their own camps in public spaces. The most well known might be Victoria square. Sleeping in public places, migrants are even more exposed to racist attacks.
One of the safest places for migrants in the cities has been squats, many of them evicted in the past nearly 2 years since the New Democracy party came to power in Greece. This has not happened without a fight. Let’s squat the world for everyone’s right to have a place to live!
The new camp
Let us take a step back and see how the new camp was built and still today represents a daily hell for thousands of migrants.
Only two days after the fire, you could see military helicopters flying by every hour. The target of the helicopters was easy to spot: the former military area on the coast, where the supposedly temporary camp would be built. Imprudent as ever, the military knows the former firing range very well and should therefore be able to know that old ammunition is hidden everywhere. In addition, the soil of the camp is contaminated with lead. This shows that the EU’s top priority, even after the fire, was to keep the migrants on the island, not giving a shit how and where the migrants are “housed”. The EU doesn’t mind the high risk of retraumatization, caused by the sight of fired ammunition and unlivable conditions. They don’t give a shit that the migrants are not sheltered from wind and cold, placed right on the coast. A few days after the fire, it was once again made clear that the EU wants to prevent these people from being brought to safety at all costs. The punitive police violence and repression created a situation in which the people impacted by the fire were stripped of all options and forced to go to a new temporary camp in the Kara Tepe area. The clear demands and hopes for evacuation from the island and for freedom of movement were shattered into a thousand pieces once more.
The pictures of the temporary camp are well known. Approximately 8000 migrants are now squeezed into 1000 tents. The initially white shining tents with the UNHCR logo are by now rather brownish and in disrepair due to the heavy rains and the resulting mud. The migrants themselves have had to become inventive again. They fix their tents with wooden pallets and tarpaulins and they dig holes to keep out the vast amounts of water in front of their tents. But still the situation is terrible and inhumane. Families, but also individuals, have to share limited space. Because of the cold, many of them are not able to leave their tents. The food distribution in the camp is catastrophic. Again and again pictures of maggots in the food appear. In addition, it is often not enough for the whole family, so they have to try to get some food by themselves and then to cook it over a self-constructed fire-place. Fires occur again and again because cables ignite or because there is not enough space. This is fucking dangerous! The camp management doesn’t give a damn about the safety of the people. According to reports, many migrants have scabies, children suffer from rat bites. The psychological consequences are serious. Children sometimes articulate suicidal thoughts, they are lethargic and partly they do not play or talk anymore. The implementation of hygiene standards to contain covid 19 is nearly impossible. In addition, migrants are afraid to be tested for corona because they are then placed in a closed-off area. As if Moria 2 was not already a huge open-air prison in itself, it is guarded even more. The Greek government exploits the corona regulations excessively as only once a week a family member is allowed to leave the camp for 3 hours. The Greek government is getting closer and closer to its goal of complete surveillance and fencing of the camps. In this repressive environment, we shouldn’t be surprised that one and a half weeks ago a women set herself on fire in the camp. When people choose a painful death instead of living, something in their living situation is terribly wrong.
However, this goal is also actively co-financed by the EU. The Greek government has announced plans to build a permanent “shelter” by September 2021. The European Commission has pledged to support the construction project with a total of 130 million euros. Shame on you Europe! The camps do not and never have aimed to provide fair asylum procedures, but rather serve the purpose of deporting people as quickly as possible. Camps like Moria 2 are simply a concretization of the border, its exlusionary logic and its scorn for human dignity. They show that white European lives are seen as more valuable than those of people outside the European border. Again and again migrants repeat the sentence: ‘Why do they treat us like animals? We are human beings’. Humanity is taken away from the people in the camps and this is exactly the purpose of European politics and actions.
We have to fight against the racist ideology of the European Union. The goal should not be the improvement of living conditions in the camp, but an end to camps altogether; freedom to stay and freedom to move for all!