HarekAct’s Weekly Digest 22/10/2019

1 – 20 October 2019

HarekAct Newsletter | Turkey’s invasion of Syria | Rise in arrivals on the Greek islands | This was not an accident! – Fire in Moria | Horrible conditions for refugees on the Greek islands | Seven Turkish citizens died in shipwreck off Chios | Legal Analysis on the third anniversary of the EU-Turkey deal

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HarekAct Newsletter

We have been closely following the political escalations in Turkey that ended in the recent invasion of Northern Syria, but we have not been able to publish a news digest in the last few weeks. At the beginning of the month we published our newsletter covering the developments over the summer month:

“The official migration policy in Turkey has shifted in the summer months. The government has made serious alterations in its treatment of Syrians and other migrants in the country in response to increasing domestic pressure caused by anti-migrant sentiments, and as a means of political leverage to force the EU into supporting their plans for a ‘safe-zone’ buffer in North Syria. Just recently president Erdoğan emphasized his plans of sending up to three million Syrians in these so called ‘safe-zones’. Mid-July witnessed the start of an intense deportation campaign to the regions of north Aleppo and Idlib, which goes to show how serious Erdoğan is about his plans. In early September 2019, Erdoğan announced to “open the gates to Europe” should the EU not provide further financial support for the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in the country. Meanwhile, the number of migrants arriving to the Greek islands has already increased immensely during the summer months.”

A shorter German version of the newsletter was published within the frame of the bordermonitoring.eu newsletter.

News & Reports

Turkey’s invasion of Syria

Turkey launched operation ‘Peace Spring’ on 9 October 2019 against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in North Syria. The offensive has already killed hundreds of fighters and civilians while forcing tens of thousands to flee. According to the report, Syrians are once again being used as political tools in Turkey’s offensive: “Erdoğan is hoping to establish a corridor with an initial depth of 30km and a length of 480 km, enabling the settlement of the Syrian Arab refugees into a mainly Kurdish territory that is cleared of Kurdish militia.” The creation of this so-called safe zone is one of the main aims of the Turkish government. Naci Ağbal, head of the ‘Strategy and Budget Directorate’ announced that Turkey could allocate parts of its budget for housing to building houses in Northern Syria.

The Guardian had spoken to Syrians in the border town of Gaziantep. One woman told the Guardian: “We [Syrians] are being used as political tools, yet again. Filling that area with Arabs is demographic engineering that doesn’t take our needs and safety into consideration. My son didn’t go to school for three days last week because his teacher kept telling him ‘It’s time for you to go home.’”

The German kritnet (Network for critical migration studies) which HarekAct is part of, has published a statement on the war in Rojava, entitled ‘End the Killing’.

“The Turkish army’s invasion of northern Syria is not only Erdoğan’s war against Rojava, but also the latest expression of the total failure of European migration and foreign policy. Rather than helping to solve the causes of global flight, these policies instead serve to systematically exacerbate them. They do not help to create ‘order’, as their strategists claim, but instead sow a million times despair, fuel chaos in the refugee camps of Europe and further violence like that currently being witnessed in Syria.”

In reaction to criticism from the European Union towards the military invasion in Syria – which from our perspective were too mild – Erdogan once again threatened to “open the gates” and to send up to three million Syrian refugees to Europe. The Greek premier minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis reacted to these repeated threats, saying: “Greece and Europe cannot be blackmailed by Turkey on this issue, and the EU needs to demonstrate much more solidarity vis-à-vis Greece in managing this issue in coming up with a new migration and asylum package but also coming up with an emergency plan B in case the current crisis turns into an emergency.”

Rise in arrivals on the Greek islands

The number of boats crossing the Aegean Sea in the attempt to reach the Greek islands, has risen further in the last weeks. Aegean Boat Report (ABR), who take their numbers from official statistics in Greece and Turkey as well as reports from the ground, reported that by Mid October over 400 boats had attempted the crossing. While 135 boats made it to Greece, 294 were intercepted by the Turkish coastguard or gendarmery. According to ABR, arrivals have increased by 3,8 percent compared to the same period in September 2019 and by 162 percent in comparison to the same period in 2018. Just last week, from 14-20 October, 18 boats arrived, carrying 634 migrants.

Responding to the high number of arrivals, as well as the threats by the Turkish president, prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called on NATO to increase naval patrols in the Aegean Sea. NATO has been active with an operation in the Aegean since 2016 which is supposed to be supporting Frontex and the coastguards in tracking migrant movements and sharing information. Currently, NATO has six ships on patrol in the Northern Aegean. Mitsotakis asked for the mission to be enlarged to the Southern Aegean. “Speaking alongside Mitsotakis in Athens, Stoltenberg for his part has already called on NATO allies to “provide more ships”, but said the mandate of the NATO patrols was “to share information and its not our mandate to stop the boats” of migrants.”

This was not an accident! – Fire in Moria

At the end of September the hotspot camp Moria in Lesvos witnessed yet another tragic fire. The group Welcome2Lesvos published a statement on the incident, in which they describe what happened:

Yesterday, on Sunday 29 September 2019, a fire broke out in the so-called hotspot of Moria on Lesvos Island in Greece. A woman and probably also a child lost their lives in the fire and it remains unclear how many others were injured. Many people lost all their small belongings, including identity documents, in the fire. The people imprisoned on Lesvos have fled wars and conflicts and now experience violence within Europe. Many were re-traumatised by these tragic events and some escaped and spent the night in the forest, scared to death.

Over the past weeks, we had to witness two more deaths in the hotspot of Moria: In August a 15-year-old Afghan minor was killed during a violent fight among minors inside the so-called “safe space” of the camp. On September 24, a 5-year-old boy lost his life when he was run-over by a truck in front of the gate.

The fire yesterday was no surprise and no accident. It is not the first, and it will not be the last. The hotspot burned already several times, most tragically in November 2016 when large parts burned down. Europe’s cruel regime of deterrence and detention has now killed again.”

Horrible conditions for refugees on the Greek islands

Just two weeks later, refugees in Samos also witnessed a fire that broke out in the hotspot in the island. The fire that flared outside before spreading inside the overcrowded camp forced hundreds of people into the streets, as their shelters had been destroyed. Fortunately, no one was killed. The fire supposedly broke out as protests erupted to protest the disgusting living conditions and inhumane containment on the island. 

Currently, there are 33.711 refugees on the Greek islands, while Lesvos is ‘hosting’ the largest part with 16.259 refugees. Moria hotspot, which is supposed to host 2.500 – 3.000 migrants, is at more than four times its capacity hosting 14.000 migrants. There are more than 1.000 unaccompanied minors in Lesvos and around 8.000 people are ‘living’ in a makeshift camp in the olive grove.

The legal center Lesvos have just published their newsletter in which they reflect on rights violations and resistance in Lesvos. This newsletter gives a good overview of the current situation of refugees in Lesvos and the most pressing issues. These include:

  • The rising death toll inside the Moria refugee  camp is tragic but foremost a predictable result of illegal containment policies
  • There is insufficient support for individual transfers to the mainland
  • New proposals and reforms would violate right to individualized the asylum assessment and the principle of non-refoulement

People & Stories

Seven Turkish citizens died in shipwreck off Chios

Marianna Kakaounaki followed up on the shipwreck on the 27 September for the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini. A boat with 19 Turkish refugees capsized off Chios, and there were only 12 survivors. Ekathimerini reconstructed why the people on board decided to board the flimsy boat, what happened during that night and why ultimately seven people, among them five children, lost their lives.

“Most of the children had fallen asleep. The adults were quiet but clearly concerned until he started shouting that they had crossed into Greece and were “free.” They were relieved until they saw a look of fear on the captain’s face as he wrenched at the wheel. Before they knew it, they had been washed overboard by a big wave.”


Legal Analysis on the third anniversary of the EU-Turkey deal

Slightly delayed, the Heinrich Böll Stiftung in Istanbul has published a legal analysis on the third anniversary of the EU-Turkey statement.