Thursday, August 30, 2012

Greece: the transit point to hell

Evros in NE Greece on the border with Turkey is the main overland entry point into Europe from the Middle East, Asia, & Africa & receives about 80% of all migrants & asylum seekers to Europe. Many of the estimated 150,000 migrants who annually enter Greece have traveled thousands of miles from Iraq, Iran, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Algeria, Morocco, & now Syria. The reasons are, of course, the same: to escape from war, civil conflict, poverty, & to find a way to provide for their families back home. Because immigrants get stuck in Greece--unable to move forward due to EU immigration policies--the Greek government is condemned by UN & international human rights groups as the most “dysfunctional” political asylum system in the world. But in fact, the system works just the way it was designed: to prevent asylum in EU countries. Greece is the first but not the only flank of Fortress Europe--an iron curtain surrounding EU countries.

Although Greece is criticized by the EU (& human rights groups) for building a razor wire wall along the Greek-Turkish border, militarizing the border is a joint venture of the Greek military & Frontex troops assigned to police the border. Frontex is an EU military force (comprised of troops from EU countries) set up to control EU external borders. The Schengen Agreement abolished internal borders within the EU, enabling passport-free movement between many European countries (Schengen is now under review in some countries due to the surges in migration--as through Greece). Of course, the reason nearly a million immigrants are stuck in Greece & unable to move further into Europe is precisely because of EU policies. Frontex runs many joint maritime operations with coast guards from Spain to Greece to prevent boats of immigrants from landing on EU member state territories. It’s troops hunt down immigrants by land & sea & deliver them to detention centers along the border for eventual deportation. With an expanding Frontex mandate from the EU comes an expanded budget--growing from US$9 million in 2004 to US$120 million in 2010.

Frontex in Greece delivers immigrants, including unaccompanied minors (contrary to international law prohibiting detention of children), to detention centers with the most deplorable & inhumane conditions. Women & unaccompanied children are crammed into cells with men, there are insufficient or no mattresses, cells are flooded with sewage due to lack of or non-functioning toilets, thousands are sick from being held in overcrowded cells (three times capacity) without proper ventilation, water & sanitation, without quality food, or the possibility of spending time outdoors. Immigrants in detention are diagnosed with respiratory infections, body pains, diarrhea, gastrointestinal disorders, & skin diseases (which they did not have when incarcerated). And of course, many people who have suffered persecution & violence in their home countries have unattended mental health conditions. Greece is increasing the number of guards at the border fearing an influx of Syrian refugees as the situation in Syria deteriorates but also as part of operation “Xenios Zeus”, a nation-wide crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Xenios Zeus which began in early August & will continue daily is conducted in immigrant neighborhoods under the guise of a war on crime (from drug trafficking to prostitution to hiring the undocumented)

The government of Greece is fully culpable but the EU is putting the screws on Greece to accelerate its campaigns against immigrants & the EU shares full responsibility for the crimes against immigrants. Xenophobia is rising in Greece with more than 500 attacks on immigrants in the past six months. Conditions for immigrants are compared to a war zone with vigilantes, “citizens groups” (self appointed neighborhood watch units to get rid of migrants), & anti-immigrant posters posted around the cities. The courts have not prosecuted xenophobic & hate violence because victims are afraid to report (since they can face deportation or detention) & because it suits the political agenda of the EU & Greek government.

The impunity of hate-based crimes is because of the electoral success of Golden Dawn, (the right-wing anti-immigration party) & the involvement of Greek cops in assaults on immigrants. The growth of vigilante & police violence is alarming but what is heartening in all this treachery is the resistance of immigrant & Greek human & immigration rights activists & organizations who continue not only to document these crimes but to litigate against them & oppose them in daily protests. Our fullest respect for their courage & solidarity with their work. This is a photo of young Afghani men (boys really) who are caught in the hellish limbo of immigration in Greece. (Photo by Zalmai, an Afghani photojournalist who has documented the migration & miseries especially of Afghani immigrants in Greece)

No comments:

Post a Comment