What Brown Admissions Interviewers Are Looking For
For months, the Greek island of Lesbos becomes an open-air prison for thousands of refugees. Here they wait for their asylum application to be processed - or for their deportation right away. The decisions of the authorities are mostly arbitrary, the conditions are extreme. A few of them are now on hunger strike.
Human rights activist Arash Hampay has not eaten in 15 days. Out of protest. In the town of Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos, he sits on the central Sapfous Square, amid small shops and cafes full of tourists. Next to him is a sign that reads: "Refugees are not criminals."
Arash Hampay founded a human rights organization in Iran that campaigned for children, women and refugees - until he became a refugee himself. Because of his work, he was arrested and severely tortured several times, his Achilles tendons were cut and his teeth were knocked out. While Arash was in prison, his brother Amir took over the leadership of the human rights organization. But when the lives of the two brothers were acutely threatened, they fled to Turkey. But there, too, they were persecuted as human rights activists. They had no choice but to set off for Europe in a rubber dinghy.
The brothers arrived on the island of Lesbos eight months ago. Since then, the two have had to wait in the barbed wire-fenced refugee camp Moria; they are not allowed to leave the island.
But that's not the only reason Arash went on hunger strike (see also his report in Independent). With him, three other men refuse to eat. You are detained in what is known as Section B, a prison inside the Moria camp. One of them is Arash's brother Amir.
Amir was arrested like a criminal while trying to renew his ID at Moria Camp. He was told that his asylum application had been rejected. Arash is shocked and incomprehensible:
“We both have the same story, did the same job and came to Europe together. Why was he rejected and I not? "
Reasons for detention: application rejected, troublemaker, economic migrant
In the prison section in Moria camp, some people are held for months. Some are there because their asylum application has been denied, others because the police see them as "troublemakers". Still others are detained only on the basis of their nationality as part of a pilot project by the Greek police, as they are generally classified as “economic migrants”. Algerians, Tunisians, Moroccans, Pakistanis and Bengalis are particularly affected.
But there are also people in custody pending deportation who have consented to so-called “voluntary return” to their country of origin or to Turkey. These “voluntary” returnees go through the same procedure as people who are deported: They are arrested, tied up in pairs and deported on a ferry. The only difference: you get some money from them International Organization for Migration. Many of them have only agreed to give up their right to asylum because the inhumane living conditions and the lack of prospects in the Moria camp drive them into despair.
Some refugees are detained for months in prison section B in the Moria camp.
After two weeks in prison, Amir was suddenly due to be deported. He and the other inmates were told that they would be sent to Athens. In reality, however, they were put on a ferry going to Turkey. They weren't allowed to make phone calls or say goodbye to anyone. However, through a friend, Arash found out about his brother's imminent "repatriation" to Turkey. He mobilized friends, activists and lawyers who came to the port and prevented Amir's deportation at the last second.
Lorraine Leete, the coordinator of the Legal Center Lesbos, was one of the people who responded to Arash's call for help. She explains the absurdity of the process:
„The asylum office had decided in the admission procedure that Turkey is not a safe third country for Amir, but his asylum application and his appeal procedure were rejected. Regardless of the question of whether he has a legitimate claim to asylum despite the refusal, the Greek government was in the process of deporting someone to Turkey whom they themselves had decided that Turkey is not safe for him. "
The deportation would have meant a clear breach of the law. In addition, Amir's lawyer for the Greek organization Metadrasi had already submitted an application for suspension of the deportation because she wanted to challenge the decision again before an administrative court. But this was ignored. The deportation could only be stopped with an urgent application to the European Court of Human Rights Pro asylum.
All other people handcuffed on the boat with Amir were deported without further controls. They had no brother to come to their aid at the last minute. Attorney Lorraine Leete is deeply concerned about this deportation practice. She explains:
„It is very worrying that, with the deportations now taking place, there is no record of who is being deported until the deportation has actually taken place. In addition, there does not seem to be any form of internal audits to ensure that the deportees have actually exhausted their legal options in Greece. Everything only refers to a list of names that is passed on from the Greek Asylum Office to the police and from the police to FRONTEX. You also share this list with the European Commission, but there is no investigation into whether the deportations are actually legal. This is a huge problem, because the Greek asylum office now processes the cases very quickly, and we often do not know who will be rejected and sent back to Turkey or to the country of origin. Many people who are deported have no one to ask for help. It is therefore likely that people will be illegally deported without our knowledge. "
Since the signing of the EU-Turkey Agreement on March 18, 2016, up to June 23, 2017, 1,229 people had already been returned to Turkey in this way, reports the EU Commission.
People are being put on a deportation boat at the port of Mytilene (Lesvos).
Although Amir was taken off the boat, he is not free today. He has been in prison for two months and is waiting for a decision on his asylum application. He is also on a hunger strike. At temperatures of up to 40 degrees, he and two other inmates only drink water. Arash reports that the police are preventing sugar and salt from being brought to prison as food additives. You would not get any medical care.
"The EU and Greece treat us like a football"
The shady deportation practice is not a failure of the Greek state, but rather a consequence of European refugee policy. Since the conclusion of the EU-Turkey agreement, the situation for refugees on the Greek islands has worsened dramatically.
As a result of the EU-Turkey Agreement, a new asylum law was passed in Greece, which provides for an "accelerated border procedure" for the islands. Since then, the majority of the refugees have not been allowed to leave the islands for the entire duration of the proceedings. The EU officials from the European Asylum Support Offices (EASO) sent to the Greek islands to support the Greek Asylum Office there. But even with your support, the asylum offices on the islands will hardly be able to process thousands of asylum applications in the foreseeable future.
Some of the people affected have been living in barbed wire-fenced camps under inhumane living conditions for over a year. A young refugee from West Africa describes what this means for the people in the Moria camp on Lesbos:
„Moria is a place where you are not allowed to do anything and know nothing about your future. It will be decided and thought for you: It will be decided what you should eat, where you should sleep, what you can say and when you will be deported. Most of us who got here have been physically and mentally healthy and strong. But after two or three months the conditions in this camp make us sick, many people get psychological problems, they are traumatized. Children grow up here and see how people hurt themselves andimitate it. But nobody wants to take responsibility for the situation if we stand up for our rights. We are like football in the middle of the European Union and the Greek government. The EU accuses Greece and Greece of the EU. "
The former military camp and today's refugee camp Moria has been equipped with barbed wire since the EU-Turkey agreement. Photo: No Border Kitchen Lesvos
Since the introduction of the EU-Turkey Agreement, many refugees have to prove in an admission test that Turkey is not safe for them before their asylum application is examined. Most affected are Syrians and - since the beginning of the year - also people from countries with an asylum recognition rate of over 25 percent, for example from Iran, Iraq, Congo and Eritrea. Most of the refugees are rejected in the admission test, imprisoned and "returned" to Turkey. But people of other nationalities are also brought to Turkey, some of them under a Greek-Turkish readmission agreement. Another fast-track procedure was introduced on the islands for nationals from countries with a low recognition rate, such as Pakistan and the Maghreb states - since then their rejection rates have skyrocketed.
Demonstration by refugees against the EU-Turkey agreement at the port of Mytilene. Photo: Ralf Henning
"We have had cases in which the Greek Asylum Office referred to Wikipedia"
The quality of the asylum check has been severely criticized on several occasions. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) threw that European Asylum Support Office (EASO) recently proposed not to consider “basic standards of fairness” in the admission interview. The work of the Greek asylum office also shows serious shortcomings, reports Lorraine Leete from Legal Center Lesbos:
„We have had cases where the Greek Asylum Office relied on Wikipedia to make decisions.They explained to one of our clients that his village could not be found on Google Maps, even though it was just a typo. These tiny details are used to deny people refugee status. "
The problem of the massive rejection of asylum applications was also reflected in the decisions of the Greek appeal committees. They clearly rejected the European assessment that Turkey was a “safe third country”. By the end of November 2016, they revised the rejections in the admission test in 97.9 percent of the cases. However, under pressure from the European Commission, the committees were eventually exchanged and replaced by the so-called “Independent Appeal Committees”. The new "Independent Appeal Committees" started their work in June 2016, parallel to the previous committees, which ceased their work in November 2016. Under the new appeal committees, rejection decisions were only corrected in 0.4 percent of cases in the first instance by December 31.
Waiting for the asylum hearing - The office of the European Asylum Support Offices, EASO, is one of the most secure areas in Moria.
"All non-Syrian refugees will be detained in deportation centers after their return"
Refugees are anything but safe in Turkey. The country has only ratified the Geneva Refugee Convention with one geographical reservation. According to this, only Europeans can receive asylum in Turkey. Syrians are granted what is known as “temporary protection”, which, however, does not grant them the same rights as with “refugee status”. A particularly bleak future awaits all other migrants who are brought to Turkey. The Turkish asylum lawyer Deman Guler explains:
„All non-Syrian refugees are detained in deportation centers on their return. In terms of living conditions, deportation centers are the worst accommodation for refugees in Turkey. There are many examples of people being held in a closed room 23 hours a day. "
People who fled war, persecution and imprisonment are being extradited to prison again. There they are usually detained until they are deported to their countries of origin or until they consent to “voluntary departure”, explain lawyers Deman Guler and Lorraine Leete. There are also examples of Syrians who have been imprisoned and deported or pressured to “voluntarily return”.
“We came to Europe to seek protection. But you treat us like criminals "
Since the EU-Turkey Agreement was introduced, the European Union has been outsourcing deportations to Turkey that violate human rights. Under the guise of “repatriation”, people who have fled war and persecution are being taken to Turkish prisons. Most of them are sent back in one way or another to the countries where their lives are being sought - and only after long months of imprisonment in Greece and Turkey. A refugee activist draws the following conclusion:
„If Europe decides that human rights no longer apply to it, they should send us back on the day we arrived instead of locking us up like criminals for months and years. "
The human rights activist Arash Hampay refuses to accept that his brother should be deported to Turkey. For 15 days he has been waiting in the blazing sun without food. Hunger strike is one of the last instruments that activists like him have left after countless, largely unsuccessful protests in the past. He writes: “Still no response from the UN refugee agency or others. It seems that human lives don't matter to them. We will continue to wait until the last drop of life runs out of our body. "
If Amir is forced to leave for Iran in the Turkish prison, it will mean his death. The two brothers had to fight for their human rights in Iran and Turkey. This is no less true on the soil of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate “European Union”.
Arash demands the immediate release of his brother and all other refugees:
„We came to Europe to seek protection. We came because we were injured, tortured, and in danger of death. But instead of granting us mercy, you treat us like criminals. Barbed wire and prisons are not the right places for refugees.
Since the day we escaped the hell we experienced in our home countries and ended up as refugees in Europe, we have experienced the worst kinds of psychological torture. We were humiliated and beaten by the police. We were denied the right to work and when we worked we were exploited. Our human rights have been taken from us. In winter, people in Moria died of cold and hunger. Many froze in thin tents for months. We saw our families die next to us and you did nothing.
How dare you speak of human rights? How dare you speak of humanity, law and democracy? How dare you condemn human rights violations in other countries if you yourself violate human rights here? "
Valeria Hansel has been a regular for a yearas a researcher and as an activist for No Border Kitchen on Lesbos
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