In the last weeks the repression on Lesvos continues. There have been more forced deportations to Turkey and the asylum procedure is still a tangle of bureaucratic nightmares, especially for people from certain nationalities. This situation creates a great hopelessness. Many peoples mental health is getting worse and a lot of people sign for a so called „voluntary return” to their home countries as their only option to get out of this island and not spend months in prison in Turkey.
Trying to get asylum on Lesvos often means long abuse and imprisonment for people already fleeing abuse and imprisonment in their home coutries. Here are two example stories that show the situation for deportations once arriving in Greece.
A. arrived on Lesvos in April 2016. He has been waiting for almost a year in the hot-spot Moria to have his case examined. When they finally do so his asylum is rejected. They pick him up on the street and bring him to prison in Moria. There he is held for 2 months and then transferred to the police station where again he is held for one month. Then he is deported to Turkey. He will spend 6 months in prison there. When his deportation to his homecountry finally happens he is arrested at the airport upon arrival and again taken to prison for 3 month.
B. also arrived in April after being released from a detention center in Turkey where they held him for several months. After a year of waiting on Lesvos he is arrested in the camp when he tries to renew his papers. He is brought to the prison in Moria. There they force him to apply for asylum. After a few days he has his interview. Because independent lawyers have no access to the camp he has no preparation for the interview and his case is rejected. He is tired of Lesvos and wants to get out of prison so he signs up for voluntary deportation. The process takes weeks to many months in Lesvos. Finally he is transferred to Athens into a detention center. He is imprisoned for 2 months. When he arrives at the airport of his homecountry he has to bribe the police not to be taken to prison.
DEPORTATIONS TO TURKEY
In April a total of 70 people were deported from Lesvos to Turkey, for whom we have confirmed information. 49 people were brought from Mytilini to Dikili on April 6th and another 21 persons on April 12th. Most of them have citizenship of Algeria, Pakistan, Marrocco and Bangladesh. Upon their arrival they are held in closed removal centers essentially a prison. According to the people being held there, they are told they will be there for 6 months. We found that there is no maximum period of the detention…anything from a few weeks to several months to a year is possible. The people in the center are asked to pay for their deportation themselves with the promise of being deported faster if they do so.
It is incredibly difficult to keep in contact with people deported to Turkey. Not even lawyers have good access to people in the removal centers. The detainees phones are confiscated with no access to friends, family or a lawyer. Their only option is to use the expensive payphones inside the prisons. If they are out of money they might loose contact to the outer world. Furthermore we have been told repeatedly about the horrible living conditions of no proper food, overcrowded cells, no cigarettes and lots of police abuse.
SO CALLED “VOLUNTARY RETURN”
To avoid being deported to Turkey, many people on Lesvos are signing for their own deportation with IOM (International Organization for Migration.) The IOM returns people to their country of origin. We cannot find official numbers of returns with IOM for the last two months (yet). As we have posted earlier, the so called „voluntary return“ is not as voluntary as IOM claims.
Voluntary returns are forced by the circumstance on this island. The hopelessness, the living condition, the waiting, the fear of being returned to Turkey, the fear of spending months in prison and always the fear of the police.
Voluntary deportees are now being promised 1000€.
IOM’s website says the “voluntary return“ is for people who do not apply for asylum or have been rejected but it has not been possible for people who appeal a negative asylum decision and were rejected to return with IOM. Instead they are forcefully returned to Turkey. We know of two cases who were returned to Turkey against their will after they signed for a voluntary return with IOM but we believe there are many more.
“The International Organization for Migration (IOM) confirmed to News That Moves that people hosted on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Leros and Kos, who have entered Greece after March 20th, 2016 and whose asylum request has been rejected, have five days to either:
Appeal against the rejection decision;
Or, ask for assistance from IOM for voluntary return to their home country, if eligible.„
This creates a situation were people have to decide between using their right to appeal the decision and maybe be deported to Turkey to spend months in prison there OR to return before having the chance of having their case examined by a court. Their rights to a fair asylum procedures are undermined by threat of imprisonment and forced deportation.
ARBITRARY DETENTION AND BIASED ASYLUM PROCEDURES
After signing for IOM deportation some people were released from prison. Others signed and remained in the jail for several months in Mytilini before being transferred to a jail in Athens and eventually deported. People never know how long they have to stay in prison. The two weeks some people are told they have to stay by the police sometimes turn into several months.
Prior to their deportation to Turkey people are held for weeks and sometimes months in Mytilini either in the prison inside Moria or the police station in the city. While in the Moria prison they can keep the phones they cannot do so in the police station. Here, just as in the Turkish centers, their only way to have contact is to use the pay phone. Visists are only possible for close familiy members…of which many have none on Lesvos.
As reported also by a pro asyl report arbitrary detention of asylum seeker is common on the islands and new closed detention centers are already being established on the other islands. New laws are being established that basically make it possible to detain any asylum seeker on the islands.
“The legal framework defining the grounds for detention of refugees and migrant, leaves many options for arbitrary detention, i.e. under the general grounds that persons who are alleged of “law-breaking conduct” or “considered to apply merely in order to delay or frustrate return“ can be detained. These prerequisites open up the possibility to arbitrarily detain almost every protection seeker on the islands. “
In December the EU states made a Joint Action plan for the implementation of the EU-Turkey Agreement. Among others things it stated that detention capacities on the islands should be increased. On Lesvos people are detained based on their nationality, especially people from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Marrocco and Algeria are held during their asylum procedure. Therefore the people of these nationalities have very little access to a fair asylum process. In prison it is hard for them to access independent legal aid prior to their interviews. Furthermore the asylum process is negatively biased towards the people with the citizenships above. Many of the people that are in prison during their procedure are or will be in fact deported back to either Turkey or their home countries.
Even for the people that have chances of getting asylum the situation is not good. The waiting time for the interviews are very long. Some people have waited for many month only for their first interview. Often when their interview date comes and they go to Moria they are told to come back again in a few days or weeks. Some people had their interview date delayed for five or six times before they finally could do it. There are also other faults in the system, like a lack of skilled translators and interviewers that are sensible towards gender based violence as a reason for women fleeing their home countries. Furthermore the EASO is loosing interviews and therefore forcing people to go through the process a second time.
People that are granted asylum in Greece are left with nothing. They receive papers that allow them to stay in Greece but get no support whatsoever in order to survive and build a life for themselves here. Of course the responsibility for this does not lay only with Greece but rather with the EU politics of forcing people to apply in the first country they enter Europe and therefore forcing people to stay in the poorer southern European countries.
A conclusion of all of this? Everything on this island is totally fucked up and we don’t see where all of this is leading except to even more repression and more suffering.