More and more people that we know on Lesbos agreed to so called Voluntary Return in the past weeks. This comes with the pressure of forced deportations as well as the current wave of arrests and imprisonments. People in danger of being deported or imprisoned in the closed area of Moria camp have the “voluntary” deportation as a sometimes last option to presumably escape more time in prison and a forced deportation. Most people are stuck here since months, for some it’s now almost a year. In fact Lesbos is an open air prison.
For some that tried to get asylum and were rejected, that tried to cross to the mainland and failed it is impossible to leave but it is also impossible to stay here. Staying is impossible even if it means going back to a country they escaped for a variety of reasons. Even if it means abandoning a hope they risked their lives for.
Another reason why people choose the “voluntary” deportation is that the IOM (International Organization for Migration) bribes the people if they sign for it. It seems that the conditions for deportation vary according to the migrant´s nationality. At the moment we hear that Pakistanis nationals are promised 500€ at departure and another 1500€ at arrival. We were told by people that agreed to the voluntary return that they only received the 500€ and never saw the additional 1500€ (yet) after they returned to their country of origin. On the other side, Algerians are offered 1000€ if they accept “voluntary departure”. At the moment there is a significant number of Algerian nationals imprisoned in the closed area of the Moria camp waiting for their deportation – some of them since months. Even though the Greek authorities, assisted by IOM, are obviously urging people to register for voluntary deportation, it seems that the administrative and logistic removal system is taking a long time.
To agree to voluntary return means spending time in prison in Greece. Some people sign the papers inside of the prison in Moria to be able to leave it again at some point. They have to stay during the procedure, which can take several weeks or even months. Others sign it outside of prison but have to spend several weeks in a prison on the mainland until taking a flight to their country of origin.
Some people cannot escape the prison even after their return. Many countries see irregular emigration as a strong enough reason to imprison the returned for several months. We keep hearing stories of people that were imprisoned for 3-6 months in their country of origin. The ones that can leave the prison after a few days or escape imprisonment all together can mostly do so because they have enough money to bribe the police. More often than not, the reintegration assistance, so the money the people receive for the voluntary return, directly wanders into the pockets of corrupt police.