Moria at night

Moria at night

Thursday 26 May 2016

Obscene waste at Idomeni

This is OUTRAGEOUS! I guess that's the Greek Government's way of saying 'thanks' to volunteers...

By destroying the humanitarian material and belongings thousands fundraised for...

Volunteers in Idomeni, who were told that if they approach the camp during the -priorly unanounced- eviction they would be arrested, return to the field, just to find all their tents, belongings and humanitarian material smashed under the bulldozers:

"Despite liaising with authorities to recover resources all of our resources and the ngo resources have been destroyed by the authorities. This includes thousands of euros of medical equipment all the NGO tents and hundreds of thousands of euros other infrastructure."

This was posted by Electra Leda Koutra on Facebook

It is much more likely to be a lack of thought by people who are overwhelmed by the refugee crisis.

The crisis demands proper resource, and proper attention rather than being tucked away by governments pretending that no one can see.

Sunday 20 March 2016

Trading people

We read of the new EU arrangements for refugees; they solve the problem.

We met individuals in Lesvos, people like us. They happened to have lived in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, rather that England. That was the only difference.

The words of the press releases read as if the mothers and fathers, grandparents and children we met, were cattle: some to be sent to country A, some to country B.

This is wrong. Ultimately, wrong is always wrong. Subsequent reports add a further dimension.

Moria refugee camp on Lesvos

Monday 8 February 2016

It is all connected

The refugees crisis is inextricably linked to the polarised would economy

This last weekend Bernie Sanders the Democrat US Presidential candidate was reported as identify the gross inequality of wealth as critically damaging to the world economy. It is one of the key points that Adair Turner makes in his book Between Debt and the Devil. If wealth is in the hands of the few, they don't spend it and so it doesn't fuel the economy. It is dead money, especially when invested in vastly overprices real estate in London or indeed Athens.

Hidden wealth in Athens was one of the point highlighted by Simon Reeve in his thought provoking documentary on Greece. Amid the financial crisis and poverty it has created there is a well healed middle class busy not paying tax and living in hidden luxury.

This is the same Greece that is carrying the weight of the refugee crisis as it impacts on Europe.

The long term solution to this crisis is a vibrant North African and Middle Eastern economy where neither Bashar al-Assad nor ISIS can gain traction since the population would be too busy getting on with life.

This is simplistic, I know, but it is the right direction.

Friday 5 February 2016

Read no further to understand the issues

MYTILINE, 2 February 2016 - by Robina Qureshi taken from IRIN See also this link to The Guardian of 6 February 2016 about the worsening situation in Syria itself and this link telling of why they don't stay in Turkey

As the Greek islands continue to receive around 2,000 migrants and refugees every day, despite treacherous winter sea conditions, many other European countries are trying to prevent their onward movement. Greece is increasingly isolated and under pressure.

Last week, the European Commission discussed the findings of an evaluation report on Greece that found serious deficiencies in its management of Europe’s external borders and rekindled a debate about whether Greece should be suspended from Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone.

If after three months “serious deficiencies persist”, Greece could face suspension from Schengen for up to two years. Not only would such a scenario have disastrous implications for Greece’s already fragile national economy – with potential impacts on tourism and the movement of goods through the Balkans – but it would also create an unprecedented humanitarian crisis as hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants would be stuck here for an indefinite period.

The possibility of suspension has been vehemently denied by the EU commissioner for migration and home affairs, but last week the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, asked its humanitarian partners in Athens to start working on a contingency plan for up to 200,000 people being stranded in the country in the coming months.

Greece does not share borders with any other Schengen member state, putting it in a particularly vulnerable position as it can be sealed externally through unilateral actions. In fact, the border between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYRoM), which is the main gateway to the Western Balkan migration route, has been closed to all nationalities besides Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans since November, and in recent weeks it has been sealed entirely for days at a time, leaving thousands of migrants and asylum seekers to sleep outside in freezing temperatures.

FYRoM’s border restrictions, which include a new fence, are a reaction to similar restrictions imposed by European countries further north. They have contributed to a sense of urgency among refugees to reach their final destination before Europe (or Greece) is completely sealed off, and may explain the continued high numbers of arrivals to the Greek islands, even during mid-winter.

Austria’s minister of the interior recently suggested that Greece could do more to protect its sea border with Turkey by making use of its navy. “It’s a myth that the Greek-Turkish border cannot be protected,” Johanna Mikl-Leitner said. But using the navy to patrol and prevent migrant boats from landing on the islands would be equivalent to treating refugees as invaders.

A spokesperson for Frontex, the EU’s border agency, pointed out that sea borders are almost impossible to fully control and that pushing boats back into Turkish seas would be illegal under the 1951 Refugee Convention’s principle of non-refoulement.

Greece has also come under fire for failing to scale up the use of ‘hotspots’ – an EU initiative to screen and fingerprint all migrants and refugees arriving in Greece and Italy. So far, only one in five hotspots is up and running on Lesvos – the island that receives 60 percent of new arrivals. The rest of the islands can only do basic fingerprinting as they lack the technology to do biometric registration despite the government requesting the necessary hardware from the EU six months ago.

The current pressure on Greece stems in part from the false assumption that the movement of refugees to Europe could be significantly slowed by channeling aid to Turkey to improve conditions for the 2.2 million Syrians estimated to be living there. The reality is that most Syrian refugees arrive in Greece after short Turkish stop-overs and there is little or no incentive for other nationalities to remain in Turkey.

Refugees will continue to rely on smugglers to reach Europe via Greece unless the EU comes up with a viable alternative for them. As Francois Crepeau, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights for migrants has said: “’Fighting the smugglers in isolation is useless; the irregular migration market is created by the barriers to mobility.”

Residents of the Greek islands have demonstrated remarkable resilience in the face of a relentless flow of migrant boats coming on top of the economic crisis. They have had to watch helplessly as the Aegean has brought dead bodies to their shores almost daily.

The lack of a coherent EU policy has created a humanitarian crisis for those seeking sanctuary and for those responding on the frontlines. It has allowed individual European politicians to develop extreme positions on migration, creating an environment that threatens to close the door on refugees in need of protection.

Writing about the crisis recently, Maria Stavropoulou, director of the Greek Asylum Service, concluded that “the EU’s member states must start to perceive Europe as a single asylum space with a common European asylum status and work towards these goals.

“Until then the dominant attitude will continue to be ‘not in my back yard’, forcing states and refugees alike to adopt irregular practices,” she said.

Europe urgently needs to have a credible policy on the large-scale resettlement of refugees, and member states must start accepting asylum applications at their consulates in countries of first arrival like Jordan and Lebanon. For the ‘survival migrants’, whose main reason for mobility is the search for employment and decent living conditions, a separate visa system needs to be established. For both groups, we have to be mindful of the triggers that cause people to move: wars and poverty resulting from social inequality and climate change, for which Europe bears some responsibility.

Monday 1 February 2016

The Refugee in Law

The 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees spells out that a refugee is someone who:

"owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."

The UNHCR website adds this background:

The practice of granting asylum to people fleeing persecution in foreign lands is one of the earliest hallmarks of civilization. References to it have been found in texts written 3,500 years ago, during the blossoming of the great early empires in the Middle East such as the Hittites, Babylonians, Assyrians and ancient Egyptians.

Over three millennia later, protecting refugees was made the core mandate of the UN refugee agency, which was set up to look after refugees, specifically those waiting to return home at the end of World War II.

The website, Migration Watch, highlights the 1951 Refugee Convention itself, which in Article 33.1 defines the principal obligation of Contracting States as follows: 

"No Contracting State shall expel or return ('refouler') a refugee in any manner to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion." 

This means that any action by coast guards to push-back boats of refugees is illegal. I write this only a few days after the Greek Immigration Minister, Ioannis Mouzalas told BBC Newsnight that “The Minister of Interior of Belgium said Greece has to do push-backs into the sea. He said “go against the law, I don’t care if you drown them, we want push-backs”. 

The European Council for Refugees and Exiles website adds that:

All the EU Member States make a distinction between asylum seekers and refugees. An asylum seeker is a person submitting a request for refugee status. The asylum seeker is not granted refugee status unless the Member State decides they qualify, following a defined legal procedure.

Article 18 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights states: “The right to asylum shall be guaranteed with due respect for the rules of the Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951 and the Protocol of 31 January 1967 relating to the status of refugees and in accordance with the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union”.

We were told that the position with those fleeing Syria and Iraq is that Frontex (the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union  accepts them as refugees on proof of nationality and residence. 

Friday 29 January 2016

Telling of our experience

We went to Lesvos for two reasons: to do what we could when we were there, but as importantly to tell the story when we returned so others could better appreciate the issues.

The Lincolnshire Echo followed our blog on their online edition and gave over three pages on Thursday 21 January, BBC Radio Lincolnshire had Rod Whiting interview me on his Breakfast show on 23 January (2hrs 10 mins in ) and Kate Hemingway interviewed us for ITV Calendar on Wednesday 27 January. Melvyn Prior interviewed us on Melvyn in the Morning on 3 February

Thank you all. There, but for an accident of birth, could go all of us.

Thursday 28 January 2016

The story of Moria

I guess when we think of refugee crises, we have in our mind a picture of the UNHCR and well known western charities working to improve the lot of those in their care. It is what I had expected at the Moria camp on Lesvos. The reality could hardly be more different.

A hand fund of individuals were volunteering at Moria in the autumn of 2015. They came to the realisation that the little that was in place wasn't working and so decided to 'do it themselves'. The Huffington Post records the remarkable story.

We experienced working with the light touch organisation which they set up. It does work, but it cannot live on air. Here is the link to its website where you can find different ways in which to support.

The view from the top of the hillside at the camp at Moria that the volunteers created. Below the tented area and queue of refugees for the clothes tent