JOINT STATEMENT: Open the Greek islands – No more dead from cold

Since the EU-Turkey statement came into force on March 20th 2016, thousands of refugees became trapped on the Greek islands. Some of them will soon experience their second winter on the islands, waiting for the examination of their asylum claims or for their deportation to Turkey.

Last winter, in the European hotspot camp Moria on Lesvos alone, six people died. No one took responsibility for their deaths. This winter, people seeking protection and a decent life will again be forced to sleep on the ground in thin summer tents and behind barbed wire. Given the circumstances, it seems likely that more deaths will follow.

Grassroots initiatives and small organizations from the Greek islands and mainland have joined forces, supported by international solidarity groups calling together to “Open the islands – No more dead from cold”. HarekAct joins this statement, in which we demand the European Union and the Greek government to put an end to the restriction of movement to the islands, and let people move on at last to find safety!

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JOINT STATEMENT: Open the islands – No more dead from cold

Solidarity groups and organisations call for urgent action as winter is coming for refugees in Greece

Lesvos, Kos, Chios, Crete, Rhodes, Kalymnos, Nisyros, Athens, Thessaloniki, x y, z – 12.10.2017

Over 40 solidarity groups and organisations active on the Greek islands and mainland are calling for urgent action from the Greek local and national authorities to prevent more refugees from dying in the cold as winter sets in once again.

Greek islands and cities woke up on Thursday, October12th to find their neighbourhoods plastered with the emblematic picture of Moria camp on Lesvos, covered in snow last winter, while the collective has also launched a campaign on social media with the hashtag #opentheislands.

Six people who were seeking refuge and protection in Europe died in Moria last winter, their deaths linked to inhumane winter living conditions. Their families are still waiting for answers from the authorities as to how and why their relatives died, and for those who are responsible to be held accountable. Only last Sunday, October 8th, a five-year-old Syrian girl died in Moria. The cause of death is yet unknown.

Moria Camp, January 2017
Moria Camp, January 2017

The collective of solidarity groups and organisations, expresses their shock and outrage at the current situation in the islands as winter sets in. Approximately 5000 people currently live in Moria camp, which has a capacity of around 2000. This includes the seriously ill, the disabled, pregnant women, many children including unaccompanied minors, and survivors of torture and other trauma. Many now live in woefully inadequate summer tents and have to sleep on the floor on thin sleeping mats or blankets. Likewise, the other Greek hotspot islands – Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros – are dramatically overcrowded, leaving 8000 more asylum seekers without appropriate shelter. The so-called hotspots are currently uninhabitable and to date a clear plan to prevent the tragedies of last winter from being repeated has not been released.

A refugee forced to stay in Moria camp reports about the conditions:

“Living in Moria makes us all sick. In the morning you wake up in a cramped tent or container between other people. It smells disgustingly and I hate that I cannot wash myself properly. In winter it is freezing. Everything is soaked. When you wake up you cannot move your limbs. And you’re covered in ashes. Last winter we burned paper and plastic to stay warm. It is as if we were not human beings.”

The collective stresses that the current situation is not caused by the onset of winter or a sudden increase of arrivals. Rather, it is a direct result of the EU-Turkey Statement and EU asylum and migration policies of exclusion. These policies keep people trapped on the islands for prolonged periods of time, prevent people from ever reaching Europe, and prevent people who are eligible for relocation and family reunification from moving on to other countries in a reasonable time.

Everybody knows that winter is coming. 700 million Euros have been made available to the Greek authorities to manage the situation. As a collective, we want details as to how and where this money is being spent. We also urgently demand that the several relevant actors in the Greek government, at national and local level, assume and clearly communicate their responsibilities. They must then be held accountable for what will happen to refugees and migrants this winter in Greece. The ongoing practice of dodging blame and responsibility for the systematic violation of refugees’ rights in the Greek hotspots is unacceptable and has to stop. It is the role of the prime minister to ensure that all levels of the government function and are held accountable. We call on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to clarify the responsibilities of different actors both locally and nationally, and to present a plan for winter.

Likewise, we condemn all the European governments who have created the EU-Turkey Statement and who put pressure on Greece to implement the EU-Turkey Statement, through the European Commission and other channels. The Statement prioritises maintaining Fortress Europe over all else, trampling roughshod over international human rights law. All European governments share the responsibility for the human rights violations suffered by refugees in Greece today, for those deaths that have already occurred, for those which could follow this winter.

It is with great interest that we have taken notice of the various statements by UNHCR, municipalities, and RIC staff, sounding the alarm over the current situation in the Greek islands. But without action, these statements are empty. We need solutions and immediate action from all responsible actors, including UNHCR, whose mandate is to provide international protection and seek permanent solutions for problems faced by refugees.

We call on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to:
  • clarify the responsibilities of different actors both locally and nationally, and to present a plan for winter.

We call on the Greek government, at local and national level, to:
  • Close the hotspots and decongest the islands by ending restrictions on the freedom of movement of asylum-seekers arriving on the Greek islands and provide them with adequate reception on the mainland outside of detention facilities.
  • In the meantime, provide appropriate, winter-proof shelter for refugees staying in camps throughout Greece.
  • Stop returning asylum-seekers to Turkey under the EU-Turkey deal, since they cannot fully access their right to apply for international protection in Turkey. Therefore, Turkey cannot be considered a “safe third country” or a “safe first country of asylum.”
  • Examine all asylum claims on their merits in a full and fair asylum process with all procedural and substantial safeguards.
  • Stop arbitrary detention. Stop the current practice of generalized detention of asylum-seekers based on nationality with the intention of returning them to Turkey. Children must never be detained.
  • Ensure access to medical care (including mental health care) and legal aid for asylum-seekers.

We call on the European Commission to:
  • Revise the recommendations made in quarterly reports and joint actions plans, and remove recommendations to increase security forces and detention facilities for people seeking protection in the European Union.
  • Remove recommendations to legalise the detention of minors, as outlined in the recommendations of the European Commission on 7th of March 2017, as the detention of minors violates the rights of children.
  • Remove recommendations for limiting the number of appeal steps and for including vulnerable asylum applicants as well as those with family links in the EU under the EU-Turkey deal.

We call on the European Union Member States to:
  • End all returns to Greece from other European States of refugees and asylum seekers under EU Regulation 604/2013 (Dublin III), due to the inhumane conditions in Greece.
  • Increase the number of available relocation places by allowing access to the scheme for those who have arrived after the conclusion of the EU-Turkey deal, and swiftly match relocation requests in order to ensure that the minimum reception conditions to safeguard human dignity can be met, as required by EU Directive 2013/33/EU.
  • Expedite the Dublin III reunification of families, many of whom have been forcibly separated by war and persecution and have been waiting years to be reunited.
  • Cancel the inhuman EU-Turkey deal!

List of solidarity groups and organisations signing on to the joint statement:
  1. Αλληλέγγυοι Χίου / Chios Solidarity
  2. No Border Kitchen Lesvos 
  3. Sea Watch
  4. Welcome to Europe (W2EU)
  5. Watch the Med – Alarm Phone 
  6. borderline-europe/ Borderline Lesvos
  7. Moving Europe
  8. HarekAct
  9. Khora Athens
  10. FFM (Research Society Flight and Migration)
  11. Legal Centre Lesbos
  12. Lesvos Solidarity
  13. Outreach Service Athens
  14. MissingLink e.V.
  15. Mobile Flüchtlingshilfe e.V. – Mobile Refugee Relief
  16. Heimatstern
  17. A Drop in the Ocean / Dråpen i Havet
  18. The International Refugee Assistance Project
  19. Refugee Empowerment Awareness Task Force
  20. InterEuropean Human Aid Association Germany e.V.
  21. Refucomm e.V Munich
  22. ConAction – Joliba e.V. Berlin
  23. Ομάδα στήριξης μεταναστών και προσφύγων Καλύμνου /Kalymnos Support Group for Migrants and Refugees
  24. Christian Peacemakers Team Europe (CPT)
  25. Are you Syrious (AYS)
  26. ΑΛΛΗΛΕΓΓΥΗ ΚΩΣ (Kos Solidarity / Αλληλεγγύη-Κως)
  27. ΑΝΤΙΦΑΣΙΣΤΙΚΗ ΚΙΝΗΣΗ ΚΩ/ Antifascist Movement Kos
  28. Ομάδα ΌΑΣΙΣ Ρόδος
  29. Joinda Production
  30. One Happy Family
  31. Collettivo Fotosocial
  32. Enough is Enough
  34. Πρωτοβουλία Ηρακλείου για τους Πρόσφυγες/Μετανάστες /Heraklion Initiative for Refugees and Migrants
  35. Πρωτοβουλία Έμπρακτης
  36. Αλληλεγγύης στους Πρόσφυγες Ρεθύμνου/ Solidarity to Refugees in Rethumno
  37. Κοινωνικό Στέκι-Στέκι Μεταναστών Χανίων/ Social Centre- Migrant Centre of Chania
  38. Κίνηση αλληλεγγύης  Περνάμε τα Σύνορα. Κατερίνη/ We Cross the Border Solidarity Movement
  39. Volunteers for Lesvos
  40. Agora
  41. SAO Association
  42. City Plaza Hotel
  43. kritnet (network for critical migration studies)