Open letter to Y. Mouzalas, Alternate Minister of Immigration Policy

Recommending policies as win-win strategies for both Greece and refugees

Kester Ratcliff

Dear Mr Mouzalas,

I read your comments  reported by Reuters yesterday, “Greece wants to send thousands of migrants back to Turkey in coming weeks”. I sympathise with your despair, I can imagine what it feels like to be forced to implement policies which you don’t really approve of and then blamed for doing it too. However, policies created out of despair do not tend to be realistic or rational in a long-term way, and I imagine you worry about that too. I wish you could take a holiday and then read and reflect on this when you’re more refreshed after a couple of weeks!
This is not just another criticism of Greece. I get it, I really do. The point of this letter is to suggest some policies that would be win-win strategies for both Greece and refugees. This doesn’t have to be a pro-refugees and anti-Greece vs. anti-refugees and pro-Greece debate. The four policies I propose, in brief, are:

1. Publicly and officially demand that the Temporary Protection Directive 2001 be activated. In the last two years, we have seen the clearest mass influx in the history of Europe since the aftermath of WW2, so for the rest of the EU to not acknowledge it as a ‘mass influx’ is just a dishonest way of evading their obligations. You do not have to stand for this any longer. The facts and the law are on your side, and a much larger share of European citizens would support you if you took a coherent principled stand, with positive alternative plans. Amnesty’s global survey of public attitudes to refugees found that in every country citizens are more welcoming of refugees than their governments, and the gap between public attitudes and government policy is widest in my own country, the UK. The EC and EuCo, naturally, only represent that share of public opinion which bays for their draconian approach, but the share of public opinion that would support you if you opposed them is not only comparable in numbers but qualitatively more committed in terms of democratic engagement and voluntary action.

2. Insist that the EU Relocation scheme, which is the only mechanism agreed so far to implement all Member States’ common obligation in Article 78(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU to practice solidarity and responsibility sharing when there is a mass influx of refugees into the EU, should be made to work properly. Not just token numbers, realistic numbers. We can all see that extreme slowness of the asylum procedures across Europe is not just due to lack of resources, administrative incompetence, or just a consequence of thoroughness, but is part of the overall political strategy of deterrence. However, as the Asylum Service said, inefficient asylum procedures are effectively a pull-factor for unfounded asylum claims, or I would suggest more specifically it makes it more likely that mass influxes will be more mixed and thus harder to fairly and efficiently assess who really needs international protection and who doesn’t. The European Council and Commission’s strategy of making the asylum procedures in Greece even slower by inserting admissibility interviews regarding Turkey, for political reasons having nothing objectively to do with the present or recent applicants’ claims, to increase waiting times and then use their desperation as a deterrent signal to others who might otherwise try to seek protection in Europe, probably is postponing another mass influx, but when it comes it will be more mixed and then even harder for Greece and Italy to deal with.

3. Refuse to carry out or make refugees wait longer for admissibility interviews before they get access to the EU Relocation scheme. This insertion of admissibility interviews into the Greek asylum procedures is for reasons totally different from the “rules of methodology” and “individual, objective and impartial assessments” in EU law. Comparison to the admissibility interview procedure in the context of Dublin III transfers is inapplicable, because the main objective of the Relocation Decision was to relieve the burdens on Greece and there was no such provision in the Relocation Decision for admissibility interviews before access to the EU Relocation scheme. If the Asylum Service and EASO respect the facts of each individual’s case, there will be no significant number of asylum seekers returned to Turkey. The asylum seekers now on the islands are going to be here indefinitely until politicians acknowledge reality and accept that it is necessary to find or make a solution, which should be relocation. If you stand up to the bullying by the European Council and the Commission rather than passing on the same kind of treatment onto refugees, many MEPs would support you in this - just call them, please.

4. Paragraph 25 of the Relocation Decision is discriminatory, because it permanently excludes individuals from eligibility for relocation based on general statistics about other people from their countries of origin. Relocation is not in itself a right, but whenever a State or an agreement of States grants a significant benefit to a certain group and not another based on a status, the difference in treatment must be proportionate to a legitimate objective. The legitimate objectives here are efficiency of the asylum system and not relocating a significant number of people who will later be found to have no needs for international protection and then incur further costs removing them. If the scheme positively presumed in favour of applicants as provided for in paragraph 25, but allowed beneficiaries of international protection from other countries of origin to access relocation after their substantive claims have been found to be well-founded, that would be proportionate to the legitimate objectives as well as non-discriminatory. Furthermore, increasing the scope of the Relocation scheme in this manner would also relieve the administrative and reception burdens on Greece even more.

Greece so far has been more humane and decent while in more economically and politically challenging circumstances than any other EU country. But the European Council and European Commission’s set of policies are so flagrantly unrealistic that they have no chance of succeeding even according to their own aims, which are evil. Greece is suffering from the same crisis of solidarity and forgetfulness of the common values which the European post-war peace was –and still is– founded on as the refugees are now suffering from.

The previous approach of Greece making common cause with the refugees and demanding that Europe live up to its claimed values and really practice solidarity and share responsibility for the common good was the right way. In working with refugees everyday, I have observed that despair is socially infectious, so for those of us working with refugees it is important for our own sanity and theirs to keep reminding ourselves to take courage and be determined about finding genuine solutions, and never giving up.

The refugees are, rightly, required to substantiate their claims, with detailed facts about what happened to them. How about you do the same with your claims? Or the other politicians in the European Council substantiate their claims? Never since the 1930s has the popularity of a political opinion or policy mattered so much more than its objective truthfulness.

This is a global problem of a swing to populism, across the political spectrum, not just on the right-wing, and it is not just a European problem. It has been characterised as a ‘Post-Truth’ political era. I am instinctively and dogmatically an egalitarian, but this consumeristic kind of populism which disregards or despises objectivity and thinks justice is merely a procedural technicality or a matter of opinion made by authorities and not a matter of truth that should concern every human being makes me seriously afraid for humanity in my lifetime. We are currently accelerating backwards in terms of human rights in practice and functional democracy in Europe, and Greece is on the frontline in more ways than one.

Returning “more than half” the asylum seekers on the islands now and “in full accordance with international law” is so unrealistic it is nonsense. It would be possible to return more than half the asylum seekers on the islands now, but, if objective facts matter at all in this process, it is certainly not possible to do so in full accordance with international law, or Greek law, or just common human natural sense of justice.

I am here every day for the last six weeks listening to the refugees’ stories. Listening and asking open questions to just draw out the facts. Speaking objectively and impartially, as asylum decisions are required to be by law, almost everyone has strong factual and legally pertinent reasons why Turkey is not safe for them and they cannot genuinely get asylum there.

I’ve listened to about 80 individuals now, for about an hour each. Honestly, if you were to listen to the detailed facts of what happened to them, you could not say that “more than half” should be found to have inadmissible claims in Greece. Some politicians refuse to acknowledge realities which they think their voters don’t like, but this does not actually change objective reality. This sort of political avoidance tactic actually leads to policies which make reality even worse and then the reality still has to be dealt with later. It would of course be a very good thing if Turkey genuinely became a safe third country, but it is clearly not now, and it is hard to imagine how it could really become a safe third country for decades starting from where they’re at in terms of functional democracy and human rights applied in practice now.

Almost everyone has been shot at by Turkish border guards or soldiers to force them back across the Syrian border, and many people were thus forced or terrorised back into Syria and made several attempts at crossing before they eventually got through Turkey. Several people told me they saw other refugees, including children, shot and killed while trying to cross the border. Many people said they were severely beaten by Turkish police or soldiers in prison, and in some cases it clearly crossed the line into torture. Many people either experienced being forced back to Syria on a previous attempt before they succeeded in getting across Turkey or were threatened with forcible return or expulsion to Syria when they were captured by Turkish police. This is not the behaviour of a State that “respects the principle of non-refoulement”. Refoulement is not exceptional in Turkey, it is routine and increasing since the EU’s interventions, and that is only one of five criteria in the safe third country concept.

Whereas Greece cannot offer jobs to most of the refugees here now, Turkey chooses not to register most of the 3 million refugees it ‘hosts’ for any sort of international or temporary protection status and give them work permits because keeping 85% of them unregistered means allowing them to work illegally so that they be illegally exploited and mistreated in work with no recourse to police protection because they are ‘illegal’. This is how Turkey has the highest number of refugees of any country worldwide now but also extraordinarily high economic growth, because it has gained a slave / trafficked persons labour force.

There is no significant proportion of inadmissible claims to be found here. Unless your administration is willing to completely ignore the facts of people’s cases or ignore the law, there is no way, no chance, to forcibly return any significant number of asylum seekers to Turkey legally. Even by gerrymandering the Appeals Authority committees, the appeals will still go onwards to the European courts, and the European Council and European Commission do not have as much undue influence there. If anything it could speed up the demise of the deal by hastening a European court judgement against the whole system.

Let’s be realistic - the EU-Turkey deal is not going to hold, and I’m sure you know the reasons better than me, and that’s why you’re so desperate to make it hold.
For the benefit of our mutual readers, let’s recap a few points it may fall at:

Firstly, it was founded on fantastical assumptions in the first place, because there never really was a significant proportion of inadmissible or unfounded claims here. Almost everyone here has strong reasons to need asylum, so claiming to return asylum seekers and other migrants to Turkey “in full accordance with international law” is literally preposterous.

Secondly, Erdogan is not going to keep on stopping the refugee boats leaving Turkey or pushing them back by any means necessary before they reach the EU frontier at the Greek territorial waters line when he realises he is not going to get visa-free Schengen travel for Turks, because there is no way Turkey can or is willing to go through the 73 legislative amendments required to make its legal system sufficiently compatible with European law. The EU’s payments for extraterritorial refoulement services are not enough to maintain the deal on their own, because the bribes collected by the smugglers’ networks, of course largely overlapping with the Turkish state authorities, are probably between half and about equal to the EU’s counter-bribes, which are as yet only pledged, and we both know what EU pledges of money are like at actually turning up on time.

Thirdly, there are at least 4 legal challenges going to the European courts so far just that I know of, and it only takes one of them to succeed to blow a big legal hole in the implementation of the deal. The European Parliament is also catching up and may even break out of its apparently merely advisory role at some point in the not-too-distant future.

You do not have to make policies out of despair. Greece does not have to continue to take the blame for being forced to implement at arm’s length Europe’s systematic human rights abuses.
Greece still could and should insist that the Temporary Protection Directive 2001 be activated. It is the only implementation system available and agreed so far for a constitutional commitment of all Member States, not essentially something optional. If Greece must pay its a pound of flesh, blood and all, because of mere contract law, the rest of Europe must observe fundamental human rights in practice which are more essential to justice. There has been no clearer instance of a ‘mass influx’ since the refugee mass movements after WW2, so the fact that the European Commission still refuses to acknowledge what this is and trigger the legal mechanism designed for this kind of situation, is nothing short of disingenuous.

At least it would be a wise contingency strategy to begin campaigning now to get the Temporary Protection Directive activated if or when the mass influx of Syrian refugees resumes again. Again, to do so would be a win-win strategy for Greece and the refugees.


Kester Ratcliff is a refugee solidarity volunteer and human rights activist. He is one of the coordinators for Calais Refugee Solidarity Bristol, Calais People to People Solidarity - Action from UK, and People to People Solidarity Southern/ South-Eastern Europe,


 

The governement manipulates the Asylum Appeals Committees


On the 16-6-2016, with a last minute amendment,  the Greek Government changes the composition of the Asylum Appeals Committees, because the existing ones were not sending refugees back to Turkey, were not considering turkey a safe third country for each applican as the implementation of  the EU-Turkey refugee deal imposes. This is a disgraceful intervention and some members the existing Asylum Appeals Committees explain about it.
 
Statement of members of the Asylum Appeals Committees of Greece
 
By the present, the undersigned wish to make a statement, as members of the Asylum Appeals Committees of Greece (Presidential Decree 114/2010), regarding the latest developments in the asylum claims review process.

An  Asylum Appeals Committee is a three-member quasi-judicial body, consisting of a Civil Servant as Chairman, a member indicated by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and a member selected by the Ministry of Interior from a list drawn up by the National Commission on Human Rights (E.E.D.A.), an independent advisory body to the state. Their mandate is to examine on second administrative (and final) instance appeals on asylum applications submitted by June 6, 2013 and rejected at the first instance by the hitherto indicated Ministry of Public Order (Greek Police officials). Since January 2011, when the Committees started to function, to this date, only a minimal number of their decisions have been challenged before the Administrative Appeals Court (as provided by national legislation). Shortly after the joint EU-Turkey statement, the Committees were temporarily entrusted to examine appeals of asylum seekers who had entered the country from March 20, 2016 onwards - the date of application of the, legally non-binding, Joint Turkey - EU Statement. These asylum requests were deemed inadmissible at first instance examination, based on recommendations of the European Support Office (EASO) representatives who conducted interviews in English.  Law 4375/2016 appointed the Committees as the competent body to examine appeals on the inadmissibility decisions until the establishment of a Standing Appeals Authority.

After assuming their additional responsibilities the Committees responded with speed and professionalism to the requirements of this new procedure, in compliance with the extremely abridged deadlines stipulated by new law. During two meetings of the Committees held by consultants of the Migration Policy Minister (the first) and with the participation of Mr. Mouzalas (the Migration Policy Minister) himself (the second), a number of legal issues were raised, concerning unlawful, in the opinion of some members, aspects of the process in the first instance, but also a series of questions about the proceedings before the Committees. Besides procedural issues, which are anything but secondary to legal issues on substance, the most critical issue was the individual judgment for each applicant as to whether Turkey may be considered a safe third country. In this matter also lies the crucial contradiction between the wording of the Joint Declaration that "all will be returned to Turkey" and the asylum system and the safeguards provided for each applicant himself. In this respect, it was pointed out emphatically by both the consultants and by Mr. Mouzalas himself that being an independent second instance decision making body, the Committees’ independence would be undisputable and their decisions would in no way be influenced directly or indirectly, adding however the  political intentions of the government to rigorously comply with the Joint Statement. In spite of those assurance, the Ministry communicated to the Committees a letter by the European Commission which acknowledged briefly and without legal reasoning, Turkey as being a safe third country, in contrast to most international organizations reports (which were never communicated to the Committees), placing in question the political leadership’s  declarations to not interfere with the independence of the Committees.

Roughly two months following the publication of Law 4375/2016 and by virtue of an amendment voted by the Parliamentary majority of the government on 16.06.2016, the Committees ceased to be responsible for these actions, the examination of which was assigned to new "Independent Appeals Committees", each of which will consist of two magistrates (members of the Greek judiciary) and one member indicated by the UNHCR, or in case of the latter’s  inability to indicate a member on time, by the  E.E.D.A. In fact, as explicitly stated in the amendment “the upcoming modification will enhance the judicial character of the Committees and maximize the proper legal protection of the applicants, as their requests will be judged by the new committees with increased impartiality and independence."

What elapsed, then, and suddenly it was considered that the examination of asylum appeals should be passed to “other hands”, suggesting that PD 114/2010 Committees had reduced impartiality and independence? What intervened was a fully substantiated legal reasoning had been cited in dozens of judgments by the PD 114/2010 Committees, after careful consideration of individual appeals, something that was not in line with the objective of mass returns of asylum applicants to Turkey, as expressed in the non-legally binding Turkey - EU Statement. These decisions of the Committees had not been reached because their members acted according to a certain "ideology" as written in the press, or because members of the Committees were not sufficiently "neutral", since they emanated from a "civil society" (let us recall here that the final selection of members from the E.E.D.A. list is made by the responsible Minister and the UNHCR is an international organization which recommends members specialized examinations). The Committees and their members, having examined thousands of cases since 2011, based their judgment on this occasion, as always before, on published reports of international bodies and organizations such as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, UNHCR, ECRE, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others, which are taken into account also in the ratio of judgments of European courts such as the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice.

It becomes then apparent from the urgency and the invoked (defamatory) grounds of the amendment that the Ministry preferred to wrest the responsibility which two months ago had chosen to confer on the Committees, because the Committees’ decisions were not harmonized with the framework of the Joint EU-Turkey Statement. This constitutes an affront and insult to our professional status as legal and social scientists, specialized academically and professionally in the field of asylum and human rights. Indeed, since the publication of the very first decisions by the Committees, indicative is the statement of the Migration Policy Minister in the international press, that these decisions contravene all UNHCR guidelines for refugees (The Guardian, 20/05/2016). If this is the view of the Ministry, it is really surprising that it has not brought a request to quash the Committees’ decisions before the Administrative Appeals Court, as expressly provided by the law. Changing the composition of the Committees through expedited legislation, rather than judicial examination and resolution of serious legal issues of international law (something which would be binding upon any future committees, regardless of their composition) confirms that this move was not made because the grounds of the Committees’ decisions were incomplete or unjustified, but because these decisions placed in question the political plans of the Ministry-government.

Managing legal issues by use of political priorities raises many questions about the future of the asylum system in Greece, the protection of human rights and the rule of law. For us, it is apparent that the implementation of the EU-Turkey Statement is incompatible with the guarantees of the existing asylum system and the level of protection of human rights which has been achieved within the international and European legal framework. Unfortunately, the Ministry’s orchestrations indicate that whenever any decision making body, old or new, is not in line with the objective of mass returns to Turkey, such law amendments and wresting of authorities and responsibility will not be in the future the exception but rather the rule.
 
This document reflects the views of the following members of the PD 114/2010 Committees:
 
Adamou Efthymia, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Deli Irene, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Giannopoulou Chrisa, member indicated by the UNHCR
Gousis Constantine, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Krinidi Constantina, member indicated by the UNHCR
Komplas Nikolaos, member indicated by the UNHCR
Papageorgiou Anastasia -Asimina, member indicated by the UNHCR
Papadaki Maria, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Patri Maria, member indicated by the UNHCR
Pragkasti Zoe-Eleni, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Proestaki Zafirenia, member indicated by the UNHCR
Ressopoulou Erato, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Svana Christina, member indicated by the UNHCR
Skandalis Orestes, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Stentoumi Joanna member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Tsakiropoulou Evangelia, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
Tsouka Erato, member selected from the list of E.E.D.A.
 
 
 

All quiet on the Eastern Front?

LeftEast, the East European Left platform for analyses and struggles beyond national borders
 
Interview with Rossen Djagalov, Mariya Ivancheva, Mary Taylor, on behalf of the LeftEast collective
 
 
When  did  you start LeftEast? What were your main aims? 
LeftEast is an international platform for informed analyses where we also share information, election or action reports and solidarity statements that come from different movements in Eastern Europe and beyond. It was founded as a result of the growing communication between individuals and groups in the newly emerging Left in the post-socialist world. It started in late 2013 as a follow-up initiative of a series of summer encounters on the neoliberalization of the post-socialist world. The first one was co-organized in 2011 by Mary Taylor in Budapest. The launching of the website itself was a result of the second summer school in Budapest in the summer of 2012, and a follow-up meeting in Bucharest that same winter organized by the Romanian left-wing web-portal CriticAtac, which still hosts LeftEast. It was clear to all of us, that each group is locally engaged, and internationally connected, but we know each other’s reality mostly through word of mouth and the scarce and often biased, shallow, or misinformed analyses in the mainstream media in the West. We understood the need to break with the dependence on the West as a source of funding, information, and as an ideational center through which all our collaboration has been mediated in the past. Instead we needed to strengthen the links between movements and struggles in our part of the world, and also open up to further peripheral countries and regions from which we have been divided due to different historical experience and taxonomies of knowledge production. In this sense, LeftEast is not a movement or an initiative that comes out of one movement or struggle, but rather a space where such movements and struggles can find expression and space for debate.
 
Please give us some information about how you function: editorial board, gathering the texts, standards and rules etc.
The editorial board consists of a core of around ten people who do not function as a political collective with unitary opinion, but who express an amalgam of opinions and positions from different tendencies on the Left. We also have contributing editorial board members who are less active in the day-to-day function of the webportal, but produce, edit, or solicit texts with specific geographical or topical focus. We usually solicit texts through our networks of activists and scholars who work in/on the region. Facebook –a necessary evil– is also very helpful in this regard, as we often encourage people to turn their long critical comments we encounter there into short opinion pieces. Once a text arrives, at least two of us read and comment on it. As some of us have native or close to native knowledge of English, we also do proofreading. After all, most of our authors are not native English speakers. We feed editorial and language comments back to our authors. We see this as a longer process of learning both for them and for us.  Sometimes we solicit translations from texts published in some of our kindred platforms from the region. We do our work 100% on a voluntary basis and so do the voluntary translators. This means we all have full-time jobs that have little to do with LeftEast. Each one of us is active in other initiatives locally where she or he is based. And this, by now, is often outside the region. So, LeftEast gives us a unique opportunity to stay connected with the region and –hopefully– to help movements connect, get to know of each other, and get coverage outside their national context. We also try to meet every year in summer encounters – we ’ve held such in Budapest, Sofia, Kaunas, and this year we plan to have one in Istanbul. 
 
The name of the platform is “Left East”. 

The name was actually invented by Costi Rogozanu from the CriticAtac web portal after the Bucharest meeting in 2012. Back then the discussion rotated around names that were heavier, not easy to remember, and definitely exceeded our ambitions – like The East International or East Left Review. Retrospectively, LeftEast was shorter, smarter, and funnier. As your readers might have guessed, it reflects a joke – in everyday Eastern European English it sounds like ['leftist] – the verdict of the infantile disorder of the Left according to V.I. Lenin. As this was a pilot project, the joke was on us, but so was also a more relaxed atmosphere than a longer title would have suggested, so we went along with it. In fact, it spared us “the naming debate” which kills the energy of many collectives at the start. 
 
First, Left. What does  “Left” mean to you, in the 21th century?...
This is a broader debate in which we enter rather with an exploratory mission than with the aim of giving firm and definite answers. What is important to know is that LeftEast functions as an editorial collective, but not as a political collective: in the sense that we rarely publish shared editorial texts or try to have a political line that represents the whole editorial board. We come from different tendencies within the contemporary radical Left in Europe and beyond: autonomous Marxists, Leninists, Trotskysts from different tendencies, anarcho-syndicalists etc... We do share firm anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-authoritarian, decolonial, and egalitarian beliefs. We try ourselves and encourage others to connect political economy oriented analysis with empirical research or experiential knowledge that take into account complex intersections between class, gender, race, and sexual identities. So rather than taking firm positions and political lines, we try to read most materials together and try to generate and curate debates among authors. Surprising as it sounds given all the traditional splits within the Left, it mostly works. 
 
…and, secondly, “East.” How do you describe this region (Balkans and East Europe and…)? And is this “East”  mainly,  a  geographical, historical, or political, concept/term? In your “About” section you say: «The aim is to constitute an alternative to the way we see the region but also to the type of intellectual production historically associated with this part of the world». Please tell us some more on this.
It technically means that we are dealing with the complexities that divisive historical processes have played in the region. We try to resist simple Cold War taxonomies of knowledge, which designate as socialist and post-socialist only East European countries, or stratify them even further into the Baltics, Central Europe, the West Balkans, Southeast Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Caucasus, Central Asia, etc., looking for shared patterns. We try to engage critically with different possible or imagined alliances (e.g. a Balkan or Transdanubian federation), also linking past and present experiences of socialism or projects for radical anti-capitalist social change. We are also interested in transversal knowledge that brings together countries beyond these divisions, for example, Latin America and Eastern Europe, Russia and Turkey, etc. Still, due to shared experiences, and contingent circumstances (our origin or research), we are still mostly focused on the formerly state-socialist regions of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Most texts come from Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Ukraine, former Yugoslav countries, and less so from the North or further East. We have more recently tried to reach out to authors and cover topics in other geographies, including a few texts on Latin America and Asia, and have had a strong focus on Turkey and Russia. 
 
There are certain objective obstacles in this expansion: the further we move from the region, the thinner our networks become. Our audience (for the most part Eastern European) also seems to recognize LeftEast as a source of information and analysis about the region, while looking for information on foreign contexts in better established or geographically-specific Left-wing sources. Interestingly, one of our Greek readers and friends (Dimitra Kofti, Greek anthropologist working on Bulgaria) recently asked why we don’t cover Greece. Seems we've unreflectively reproduced one of these divisions we set out to problematize. True, Greece stayed on the “other” side of the Iron Curtain as part of Southern European and second wave EU member countries (PIIGS) and has been –unlike Eastern European countries– covered widely in Left-wing media. The assymetry became ever greater when Syriza was rising to power while the Left in Eastern Europe is still tiny and mostly politically marginalized. Since then Greece has been discussed by our writers, some of whom have contributed to AnalyzeGreece - a kindred English language portal - but Greece has mostly stayed out of our focus. Of course, we would be only delighted if you or your readers send us articles on Greece to publish, that include analysis sensitive to the different historical experiences within the Balkan peninsula. 
 
I would like to hear your thoughts on Syriza and the Syriza government. What does it mean for the movements  and the Left of the Balkans and Europe?
As an editorial collective we don't have a common view of Syriza, and neither do East European movements: for some groups/individuals connected to LeftEast, Syriza was never a real revolutionary alternative; others saw it as a last hope. In the region it was for a few years a hope that a socialist government can put other issues on the agenda of national and EU level politics, which our governments did not. We were all excited and campaigned in solidarity with the Greek people during the referendum in July 2015. Yet, both the Troika dealing and the Tsipras governments’ reaction were sobering and disappointing. Not so much the last-moment surrender, but rather their not having thought of a Plan B –Grexit – and actually preparing for it. While this was all happening, however, many of us realized a second, retroactive disappointment: how was it that a similar solidarity on the Western Left was nowhere to be found in the 1990s at a time when Eastern Europe –without a real Left in government– went through even more severe cycles of crisis and dispossession? So now it’s no surprise that solidarity is not there to be found - Greece still seemed affluent when looked at from e.g. Bulgaria or Moldova. Currently, we’ ve been engaged – individually and at times collectively through texts or invites we receive - in critical dialogue both around Lexit in the UK, and around DiEM’s attempts to revive a democratic Europe. As members of the editoral collective we have different opinions on these and the future of the EU or the lack thereof.  As for Syriza – for good or for bad, the refugee crisis sheds new light on how far the Greek government is ready to go in obeying the Troika, reneging on its mandate. Sure, the brutal economic blackmail doesn't help, but it's disappointing none-the-less...
 
And then, I would like to ask you about your view on the refugee/immigrants issue, and especial the deal (the deal of shame, in my opinion) between the EU and Turkey.
The current dangerous liaisons of Turkey and the EU are one of the reasons why this year we are trying to hold our summer encounter in Turkey. The connection of Turkey to the region is complex, both because of lasting anti-Islamic sentiments due to the legacy of the Ottoman empire and to modern-day Turkey which have been key geopolitical players in the region. We are all clearly outraged by the dirty deal between the EU and Turkey. It uses taxpayers' money neither for economical and political integration of migrants escaping war and economic warfare, nor for the ending of the war and reparation of societies destroyed by war and plundered by neocolonial relations. It technically uses the Turkish state as an eager mercenary to fend off Fortress Europe from these migrants, while waging war on migrants and minorities. This is no surprise – the EU has been a key imperial power in the neocolonial exercise called “Euroatlantic integration” through which our region has gone since the 1980s. Inhuman reforms allowed millions of people in the region to become unemployed and homeless overnight while factories, land and buildings were privatized and remained empty. The neoliberal restructuring let people die without access to medical care while medical concerns and private doctors accumulated enormous sums. It allowed governments to cut even the miserable pensions, maternal and unemployment benefits for those most vulnerable under the premise of the survival of the fittest in a  “healthy” society of cut-throat competition. So as with the Greek crisis, we see the current intervention of the EU rather in continuity with its inhuman policies and tendency to defend elite interests and outsource its problems and create reserve armies by dividing and ruling its periphery. Sadly, the refugee crisis has exacebrated the fear of dispossession which our people experienced in the 1990s, and has pitted many against the migrants, instead of turning them against the elites.
 
What is the current situation, in other words, what are the main problems and prospects on the Left and among the movements in the region?
We have increasingly authoritarian governments driven by capitalist lobbies and not willing to obey even the simple rule of law. While the Left in Europe is raging against evil trade agreements as CETA and TTIP, Eastern European countries have been exposed to the detrimental results of the association agreements with the EU and bilateral trade agreements with European and North American countries, which contain the ISDS and which have twisted the hands of countries into deals that clearly go against the popular interest. At the same time, while the Left is ever further vilified and condemned by conservatives, liberals, and oligarchic social democrats, the right extreme has presented itself as the only alternative that “cares for the people”. The reemergence of Putin's Russia as some new hero for part of the Western and local Left has made it ever more difficult to form alliances locally and internationally. At a time of refugee crisis and the fight over non-existent or severely cut labour and welfare in the region, the Left-wing organizations are structurally volatile and severely underresourced: in each country many activists live abroad and are engaged in long-distance activism due to migration and precarity... In the final declaration of our encounter in Kaunas in 2015 (coorganized with activists based in South European countries), we said “The Balkans are the future of the PIIGS”. Unless the Left in Europe manages to find ways to fight back, it seems Eastern Europe will be the future of Europe. 
 
Rossen Djagalovis an Assistant Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at the New York University. Formerly an organizer for Yale’s graduate student union (GESO), he works on representations of labor and international leftist culture in general.
 
Mariya Ivancheva holds a PhD in Sociology and Social Anthropology from the Central European University in Budapest, on the topic of the higher education reform in Bolivarian Venezuela. She is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at University College Dublin and a member of Attac Ireland.
 
Mary Taylor is Assistant Director at the Center for Place, Culture and Politics, Graduate Center, City University of New York. Mary received her PhD in anthropology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her research focuses on sites, technologies and politics of civic cultivation, social movement, and cultural management; the relationship of ethics and aesthetics to nationalism, cultural differentiation, and people’s movements in socialist and post-socialist East-Central Europe and the United States. She specializes in studying, theorizing, and organizing radical and alternative pedagogical activities under different conditions of urbanization. 

 
Mariya Ivancheva, Mary Taylor, Rossen Djagalov were interviewed by Stratis Bournazos.
 
First published in Greek on “Enthemata” of the newspaper “Avgi”, 15.2016.
 

 
 
 
 
  • Published in EUROPE

Under the same roof”: some thoughts on the experience of the occupation of the City Plaza hotel

 Aliki Kosyfologou

The societal crisis, created as a result of implementing fiscal austerity in countries of the European south, became, among other things, the impetus for the creation of a wide and diverse solidarity movement, aimed at the identification of collective solutions to shared problems. This newfound collective experience is made up new or transforming forms of organizing solidarity, new practices as well as a new political culture that is created through them. From covering the daily sustenance needs for impoverished social groups, to the protection of housing, to the loss of jobs, to increasing unemployment, to the intensification of social exclusion and discrimination, the agenda of issues to be tackled is very broad, while the practices themselves are balanced between the immediate tackling of the effects of authoritarian austerity, to the new paradigms proposed by each experiment in solidarity.

Under such conditions, the movement to Europe of hundreds of thousands of political and economic refugees not only from Syria but also from Afghanistan, Iran and elsewhere, crossed paths with facets of an emerging societal experience in self- organisation which, if rudimentary in its forms, proved itself to be particularly important for creating a positive climate, averting societal panic and its racist undertones. Experience up to now in some of the areas receiving refugees – for example on the greek islands, in Piraeus, Victoria square in Athens, on the borders, and elsewhere – despite its internal contradictions has mobilised large parts of society in a positive way. The response to calls for collection of goods for which there is an immediate need, the voluntary offering of a set of services –medical, social care, etc– as well as the active participation in solidarity structures created to tackle the multiple needs that arise, point to an unprecedented massiveness of societal involvement in the organisation of solidarity.

On balance, however, as previously happened with the Greek referendum, it is also the case in the context of the refugee “crisis”, that time is divided between “before” and “after” the signing of the agreement, in the case of the EU-Turkey deal, bringing about the temporary-indefinite closing of the borders. Up to now, the knowledge of this new reality of hermetically sealed borders appears to create movement on the part of refugees as regards the issue of asylum, thereby leading to the progressive increase in asylum application submissions.

Apart from the serious responsibility borne by the Syriza government visavis the signing of an agreement which violates fundamental human rights and ultimately punishes the refugees themselves –as well as the implementation of a policy restricting refugee movement (for example, through the creation of reception centers outside of city limits, the operation of detention centers)– these conditions also create the framework and goals of the solidarity movement.

This new role for the solidarity movement is explicitly distinct from that of establishment structures and the division of EU funds from refugees between non governmental organisations. It is defined by the new needs that are created, both immediate and longer term, which will function as the cutting edge for new struggles. This means, at least as regards the agenda of new demands towards the government and other institutional actors, that, apart from demanding better living conditions for refugees, the issue of the political orientation of the institutional agenda for refugee policy is also brought to bear, namely the organisation of a policy based on social inclusion and the recognition of an equal role for refugees in society.

In this context, through solidarity practices, there emerge, timidly perhaps, new paradigms with transformative potential. Though the practice of occupying buildings for housing and social purposes has its roots in the now distant 70s, in central and Northern European countries –countries in which the issue of housing had emphatically emerged during that period– the truth is that the Greek experience is very limited. In spite of this, the arrival and the stay of refugees in Greece appears to be the impetus for the creation of a new paradigm.

Occupied hotel City Plaza has up to now housed around 150 refugees, of which over 50 are children – and sets a dynamic example with transformative potential. For how can  a seven floor hotel in good condition remain shut when at the same time underage children are sleeping in the streets, having previously survived war or even deadly sea journeys from Turkey to the Greek islands? The protection of human life and dignity can only be the strongest grounds for social utilisation, regardless of the problems that arise, big or small. This is also true for the occupied building on Notara street, which has now been in place for over six months, and which has greatly contributed to tackling the serious issue of refugee housing, as well as for other smaller attempts at housing provision which began in response to the refugee “crisis” and the need for creation of new forms of solidarity.

It is reasonable that, apart from meeting the immediate needs of refugees, other issues also arise, either as regards the immediate management and organisation of a solidary- self-managed housing structure, or as regards its political orientation. For example, in order to succeed in having as horizontal a structure as possible, as well as to equally divide roles and actions between refugees and solidarians, conditions need to be in place facilitating greater participation from everyone in the organisation of daily life in a smaller or bigger community of people that is still being created. Making use of knowledge, specialised skills, interests and professional experience of everyone -both refugees and solidarians - can act as a starting point (through the introduction of participatory planning for the space). Moreover, the democratic character of such a cohabitation is judged by the degree to which the practices being followed put to the test the gender and other hierarchies, as well as the gendered division of roles. For example, the creation of a play area can serve both the need of minors for play, as well as make easier the daily life of mothers, giving them some time to organise their various obligations, leave the accommodation space, or rest. Equally, activities such as cooking, and the cleaning of shared spaces will play a key role in determining the character of the space. At the same time, maintaining and strengthening its outward facing character contributes to the creation of links with the neighbourhood and society.

Undoubtedly, the difficulties will not be few and far between, both as regards the practical needs of daily life, as well as regarding the political function of the space. Equally, well meant and constructive criticism will coexist with vulgar manifestations of smear campaigns targeting such efforts and the people involved in them.

As Farhat Hashmi writes "solidarity means standing side by side with each other"(free translation from the poem: Solidarity means). That describes exactly the stance taken by the former workers of the City Plaza Hotel, who stood side by side with the refugees, at the same time fighting the battle to “fulfil their just demands, needs and rights”, as they write in a statement they published.

In other words, despite the material and other obstacles, fatigue –psychical and psychological– and other difficulties encountered by similar dynamic and practical manifestations of solidarity in their implementation, their success is judged by the degree to which they continue to be organised based on the needs of people –in this case, refugees and solidarians–, as well as by the creation of conditions for a happy shared life – #wewilllivetogether, in a pluralistic environment.



Translated by Despina Biri
First published in Greek, on k-lab, 2.5.2015

Refugee Accommodation Center City Plaza

Since the morning of 22/4/2016, the abandoned Hotel “City Plaza” in Athens has been turned into an Accommodation Centre for Refugees. Currently refugee families from different nationalities, together with hundreds of people of solidarity are working collectively for the cleaning, repairing and organization of space, so that it can open soon as a project of self-organization and solidarity, as a center of struggle against racism and exclusion, for the right to free movement, decent living conditions and equal rights.

The Solidarity Initiative to Economic and Political Refugees invites everyone to practical and material support of the Accommodation Centre “City Plaza”. For the next few days and as long as there are works in progress in the building, it will not be possible to accommodate more refugees.

From the summer 2015 and on, Europe and Greece have been found unable to respond to the issues emerging from the largest refugees’ wave in their territory, since the World War II, in the source of which there can be found the declaration and act of war, on a military as well as an economic level, from the countries of the North to the countries of the South, which has lead their populations to poverty, fear and oppression.

This fact has created two very distinctive and opposed tendencies: the first is expressed by the activation of racist reflexes, which can be found in the core of the European continent: fences and walls have been built; FRONTEX and NATO have been invited in order to “protect” the borders; deportations and brutal oppression of refugees.  It is clearly expressed through the racist agreement between the E.U. and Turkey, which violates the Geneva Convention and every humanist value, as it copes with the refugee issue as if refugees were a merchandise that can be part of a transaction; it also leads to an unthinkable number of deportations towards countries in which their life and freedom is compromised.

The second tendency is the one expressed by the huge wave of solidarity in Greece, as well as in Europe. Millions of people were found side by side with the refugees in their battle to cross the borders and overcome all kinds of difficulties through their journey. People in solidarity in Athens, in August 2015, took immediate action in Pedion Areos, thousands of people from all over the world have come to Lesvos and other Aegean islands, in order to contribute to the efforts of the people there. Europe has known the largest wave of solidarity and mutual aid in the last decades. This mobilization is bearing the hope for a resurgence of the society, in order to erase the danger to see Europe becoming a “Dark Continent” again.

The Solidarity Initiative for Economic and Political Refugees has taken action, for quite some time now, within this movement of solidarity, in the centre of Athens. It has brought out the fight of the refugees; stopped the efforts to create “apartheid” areas, without the presence of refugees; pointed out the responsibilities of the Greek government, which not only did they fail to secure the accommodation, protection and free passing of the refugees, but also signed the racist agreement and took the responsibility to implement it.

From now on, our needs go to a different level. Europe’s political agenda of closed borders basically determines the conditions under which a number of political and economic refugees, who initially had the intention to move on towards northern countries, are now stuck in Greece. Without foregoing for a moment our basic demand for open borders and our fight against closed ones, we feel the need to gather our forces toward the creation of decent living conditions of refugees in Greece, in our neighborhoods, with full rights in all social services.

In this framework, all along with our constant demand for immediate accommodation of the refugees, not in camps, military or not, but in appropriate buildings with full infrastructure, where they will be able to move freely in and out, we decided to occupy this building: on the one hand, we wanted to contribute, within our grasp, with a solution to the problem; on the other hand, we felt the need to have a place where information and coordination for refugees’ issues would take place.

Our decision does not release the Greek or any other government from their responsibilities to immediately provide all refugees with accommodation and protection. However, it points out that solidarity can be the driving force which will stand up against any racist plans of the European countries and it will see to the protection of all refugees, in the direction of full integration, next to the local workers and oppressed people. There have been several attempts, right after the racist agreement between E.U.-Turkey, from the media and the government, to demonize and attack solidarity, which was considered to be responsible for the fact that the refugees stand up for their rights.

It is rather clear that if the status of exception, which has been planned for the refugees, proves to be successful, it will be used as a model to other parts of the society, which, during the last years, have experienced the brutal agenda of poverty, oppression and exclusion.

We declare that we will stand to the side of the refugees, people in solidarity and workers who, during all these years, have fought for the rights to education and health, accommodation and food for refugees, against the criminal politics of closed borders, which, up to now, has killed thousands of people, against ghettos far from the city centre, where refugees will be “invisible”.

The Solidarity Initiative for Economic and Political Refugees invites the workers in solidarity to participate in this effort, in the Refugee Accommodation Center City Plaza and every other independent solidarity structure.

Let’s create a world of mutual aid and co-existence.

Against racism, solidarity. We will all live together.

– Down with the shameful agreement between E.U.-Turkey. Open borders, safe passages for refugees.

– Full legalization of all refugees. No deportation to Turkey or elsewhere.

– Accommodation for all refugees in appropriate buildings, within the city core. Requisition of hotels and empty houses for refugees’ accommodation.

– Free access to health and education services for all refugees. Participation of the refugees’ children to programs of school insertion.

– Closing of all detention centers, no exclusion of refugees from the cities.

– No criminalization of the solidarity movement.

Solidarity Initiative

for Economic and Political Refugees

The process of sorting the «good» migrants from the «bad» threatens everybody

Daniel Trilling

The first deportations from Greece under the new EU-Turkey deal took place on 4 April. Although the deal has been framed as a way to tackle the Syrian refugee crisis, with the EU promising to resettle one Syrian from Turkey for every Syrian it sends back, most of the people deported on this first day came from Pakistan, or elsewhere in South Asia. These are the sort of people usually described as "economic migrants", not refugees. While some of them will be fleeing political persecution or conflict, many of them have come to Europe because they see no way of earning a living at home.

They take the same dangerous journeys and face the same abuses at Europe's borders as do the refugees from, say, Syria or Eritrea, but they generate less sympathetic media coverage and have fewer rights: if they don't claim asylum, or if their claim is rejected, they must either live hidden from the border regimes of European states, or they risk long periods of detention – as happened in Greece after the government's effort to round up and imprison undocumented migrants in 2012.

Much of the discussion around the EU-Turkey deal has centred on whether refugees - ie, people who have a legitimate case for protection under international refugee law - will be given due process. This is an important question. There is already evidence that the Greek authorities are not giving people the chance to claim asylum before they are assigned for deportation, and that the EU has not provided sufficient resources to make the system work. Furthermore, despite the EU's efforts to label Turkey a "safe country" for refugees, there is much evidence to the contrary. For example, Amnesty International claimed that Turkey forced a group of Afghan migrants back to Kabul only a day after the EU-Turkey deal was signed.

But to focus only on the situation of refugees risks implying that the migrants who do not fit this category –the "economic migrants"– deserve whatever treatment they get. In my opinion, the violence of the border system is partly explained by the process of sorting the "good" migrants from the "bad", and to play one group off against the other ends up threatening everybody. For many years, European businesses have profited from the labour of undocumented migrants - on farms in Greece and Italy, for example, or in service industries in the cities of northern Europe – yet at the same time official policies have treated their movement as a threat to be eradicated. The border defences of Fortress Europe have been constructed in response to this "threat" and they have proved destructive for refugees and "economic migrants" alike.

First published in Greek on "Enthemata" of the Greek newspaper "Avgi", 10.4.2016

51 citizens of Chios: Stop the deal!

Chios must reject the unethical EU-Turkey refugee deal!
51 citizens of Chios
 
The implementation of the unethical EU-Turkey refugee agreement, say 51 citizens of Chios, has uncontrollable consequences on the island and it must be stopped.
 
“The EU-Turkey agreement is illegal and immoral, as characterized by many international organizations that dissociated themselves from the creation of closed detention centers. The deal violates international law on refugee rights. Any attempt to implement it on our island will stigmatize our community and has already had uncontrollable consequences. Deportations of uprooted and persecuted people must be stopped. We demand an open route toward Europe for refugees.”

Mítsi Akogiunoglou
Michalis Anezíris
Dimítris Antonoglou
Despoina Armenaki
Kostas Vates
Maríka Vafia
María Vouchara
Alekos Gaïtanos
Víky Georgouli
Panagiotis Dimitrakopoulos
Stamatis Iliadakis
Alexandra Ioannídou
Sofi Kavada
Pantelís Kavyris
Giorgos Kakaris
María Kalamera
Giorgos Kalogeros
Pantelís Kalogeros
Markella Kalogrídou
Tzeni Kalipozi
Anastasios Koutsodontis
Giánnis Koutsodontis
Eiríni Koutsoulia
Mikés Krimizís
Dimítris Lavatzís
Mikelía Legatou
Giánnis Loukás
Thodorís Martakis
Periklís Mitsialis
Vasílis Balas
Vasilikí Boúra
Sevi Païda
Alexandros Panagiotákis
Fotios Papadopoulos
Vasílis Pappas
Kostas Sideratos
Polykarpos Skapinakis
Markella Spanou
Christína Spyrou
Sofía Strakari
Michalis Sfyrakis
Stella Tsakíri
Despoina Tsardaka
Dimítris Tsouchlis
Telis Tympas
Stélla Faïtaki
Ermioni Frezouli
Giorgos Chalatsis
Filía Chalatsi
Ioulía Chaliorí
Evis Chrístou
 
Translated by Dimitris Ioannou

First published in Greek, on the lockal newspaper of Chios "Αplotaria", 4.4.2016

 

The European Canard of Safe Turkey

Georgia Spyropoulou


Today marks the day when the first two hundred refugees and migrants are returned to Turkey from Greece. This article discusses in detail the reasons why this is a corrupt outcome, both morally and legally.


The EU-Turkey deal is a bad one. Naming Turkey a safe third country, and returning people fitting the refugee profile is, on the international scale of legal values, the worst that Europe has to showcase since the beginning of the refugee issue and its attempt to handle arrivals, while also very clearly surpassing every poorly aimed, deadlocked or dangerous choice made up to now. Indeed, it's the escalation of a series of political decisions such as the involvement of NATO, military operations and the shielding of borders. The fact that the text of the agreement directly undermines and circumvents international and European law, clearly indicates that we are facing a reality that threatens the future of refugees.

The legal deficits of the agreement have been highlighted and criticised by international organisations even before it was signed. Despite the fact that the agreement text in many places makes direct reference to respect for international and European law, this is not enough to guarantee that this will indeed be the case. Given the situation Turkey is in, politically and legally, it is a far cry from being characterised as a safe third country. More specifically, the legal basis for the implementation of these measures is Directive 2013/32/ΕU on common processes for granting and repealing international protection, more precisely the concepts of “safe third country” and “first asylum country”. Specifically, Article 38 of the directive defines that the implementation of the concept of safe third countries is only permitted when a set of requirements are cumulatively met: there is no threat to the life or the freedom of the asylum claimant due to race, religion, nationality, social class, or political beliefs, there is no danger of serious harm, the principle of non refoulement and the ban on removal are abided by, while there is also the possibility to claim asylum and to be offered the requisite protection.

In the case of the deal, apart from the guarantees Turkey needs to provide so as to be characterised as a safe third country, Greece must in turn incorporate into its national legislation a) specific rules which, in the context of returns, require the asylum claimant to demonstrate a link with the third country so as to provide a reason for returning, b) specific methodology which the authorities must follow, c) securing individual examination of asylum claims, as well as the right to make use of legal means for appeal. Presidential Decree 113/2013, as revised and currently enforced, does not include any of the above guarantees, which means that no return to Turkey can take place before the above rules are incorporated into the national legislation, and before an appropriate framework is in place. Moreover, the fact that refugees transited through a country is not enough grounds for a link, as transit is often due to random events and does not mean that a significant relation the transit country exists, so as to provide grounds for returning.

Despite the fact that it is host to the largest number of refugees, Turkey cannot be characterised as a safe third country. There is no guarantee that those returned to Turkey will be granted the level of protection they are entitled to, nor that they will not be returned to the country they fled from, that is, back to danger. This realisation is supported by, among other things, numerous complaints made to international human rights organisations regarding cases of returns of Syrian citizens by Turkish authorities back to Syria, as well as the fact that just one day following the signing of the agreement and the unofficial naming of Turkey as a safe third country, Amnesty International publicised yet another case (in Greek) of mass return of Afghan refugees back to Kabul. In addition, Turkey has a long history of human rights violations, as well as proven persecutions of minorities and dissidents. Among these violations, Turkey also has the greatest number of convictions between 1959 up to now, over 3,000 (18% of the total), well above all member states which are cosignatories to the European Convention on Human Rights. At the same time, dissident lawyers are being publicly murdered in Turkey in recent months, press freedom is being ostracised, while dissident journalists are being jailed. Entire cities are under siege, while the intensity of repression is increasing, all the while the “cold” conflict with Russia spreads like a desert beneath the shattered political map.

As regards the legal framework for those entitled to international protection, the following are in place: Syrian citizens are granted temporary protection, with a right to work, but with restricted access to education social care and integration more generally. Citizens of other countries are granted the right to international protection, based on the Law on Foreign Citizens and International Protection which has been in force since 2014, but which does not correspond to being given refugee status, since Turkey has not lifted geographical restriction to granting refugee status only to European citizens or to foreign citizens formerly ordinarily resident in Europe. Here we must stress that Turkey is not the only country which has not lifted geographical restrictions, while based on the concept of European safe third country, this country must have ratified and be enforcing the Geneva Convention without geographical restrictions.

Legal acrobatics are in fact the result of the moral disintegration demonstrated by Europe in the case of the issue of refugees. Contrary to the demands of the Geneva Convention, where illegal entry is not prosecuted when it concerns refugees seeking shelter, we instead see a refutation if not a punishment, given that, according to the agreement, priority for relocation will be given to Syrian refugees who have not attempted to enter Europe illegally. That is, relocation will take place using “rules of good conduct”. Even so, of course, the number of refugees to be relocated stands at just 72,000 over two years, when recorded Syrian refugees are over 2,700,000. The implementation of a controversial measure, that of EU entry on humanitarian grounds in the event that flows stop, is the pinnacle of hypocrisy, as saying “we will welcome you if there are only a few of you” can hardly be called international law.


The distinction between the legal and actual treatment of people, arriving after 20th March 2016 relative to those who arrived before the agreement was signed, lacks even an elementary moral and political basis. Apart from the possibility of being part of the relocation programme, new arrivals are being held under a legally dubious framework, as the requisite procedures are not being followed, which include the issue and delivery of a detention decision, which includes justification on the reasons why they are being detained, without access to legal aid, without the right to claim asylum, and under unacceptable living conditions.

The opposite view claims, among other things, that given that Turkey is host to the largest number of refugees since the beginning of the war in Syria, it is a de facto safe country2.Moreover, given that, based on European legislation, every claimant is allowed to dispute the condition of safety on an individual basis, no country can be declared 100% safe. However, these realisations are not sufficient to build a solid argument that can withstand legal criticism. Even if we were to accept these arguments, when comparing these to the requirements of Article 38 of the Directive on non-refoulement, claiming refugee status, danger of serious harm, etc, then every counterargument crumbles.

In order for there to be a reduction in flows, human life, rights and asylum as an institution are taking a back seat. Since there is as yet no recognition of safe third countries at European level, Greece is called to recognise Turkey as being a safe third country, so that the agreement can be implemented. As regards its outcome, there are two possibilities: First, Greece will implement everything that is required to ensure large scale returns to Turkey, bearing the cost that this carries, since the fundamental prerequisite of the agreement is that Greece contravenes international refugee law.

Second, implementing the agreement to the letter while at the same time respecting European and  international law – as proposed in the agreement text - will result in returns to Turkey being fewer than the forced returns being made by Hellenic Police, as the asylum claims made by new arrivals can in no way be considered unacceptable3. In other words, if Greek authorities follow international refugee law, the agreement cannot be implemented.


Georgia Spyropoulou is a legal expert working with Amnesty International (her views do not necessarily reflect those of Amnesty International).

Τranslated by Despina Biri

First published on k-lab, 30.3.2016

Refugees without asylum, states without reason, societies without illusions


 Some thoughts on the deal of shame between EU-Turkey

 
Dimosthenis Papadatos-Anagnostopoulos
 
 
It only took four months for Wolfgang Schäuble's “sincere” statement regarding the refugees –namely that “They are not desired in Europe”– to become a guideline for the whole of the European Union, at the helm of which, and let us bear this in mind, are neither Marine Le Pen nor Nigel Farage, as yet. It took just four months to dismiss the supposed “war against the peoples' smugglers” doctrine and explicitly acknowledge through the EU-Turkey Agreement, that the aim of the EU is to “put an end to the refugee flows.” And just like that, along with the pretexts, the commitment of the member states to the Geneva Convention and to the New York Protocol,  came to an end: a commitment to a framework of international protection which obliged the Western World to remember what happened in the past to those populations that were regarded as redundant, so that history does not repeat itself.

By no means is the existing framework of international protection an anthem an ideal solution  to the open borders. On the contrary, it excludes the “irregular” immigrants, and by this exclusion, it forces them to confront the consequences of decoupling immigration policy from labour policy, from as far back as the beginning of 2000, leaving  immigrants exposed to the “parallel legality” of mass arrests, refoulements and refugee camps. However, even if it excluded, even if it restricted someone with familiar obstacles when applying for and receiving asylum, this framework covered at least the refugees. Today this protection, and all the historical burden of the World War II behind it, have been canceled. This cancellation was celebrated by the Greek government as a “step forward” and a “diplomatic success”; the same cancellation that the Head of the British department of Amnesty International has hailed as a “dark day for the Geneva Convention, Europe and the mankind,” while UNICEF added that from now on minor refugees and immigrants will be returned to Turkey, where they will face an uncertain future.
 
No reason: the Pre-announced End to the International Protection

The cancellation of the Geneva Convention is a historical change, a change to a continuity. What I mean to say is that it is not the current “objective” of the refugee “crisis” that annuls the protection of refugees in practice, but the effort of the European states to shake off its “burden” over the years. This effort goes back more than a decade, when the present flows, as well as the economic crisis with which they intersect, could not be possibly have been predicted. 

In March 2003, Tony Blair presented the European partners with a plan for  “improving the management of the refugee flows,” based on two axes: improvement of the protection that refugees receive in countries neighbouring to their country of origin (in any case away from prospering Europe...) and setting up asylum request centres outside the European Union. The project would be financed by the European Commission from July 2003 and its pilot implementation was planned to take place secretly in Croatia, which back then was not a member of the “European family.”

On the same wavelength, out of the 4 billion euros that the EU allocated during the period 2007-2013 to the immigration and refugee policy, about half of it (1,82 billion) was directed to border controls, whereas just 17% went to the support of the asylum procedures. In September 2014, at a time when the bloodshed in Syria had already uprooted millions of people, the British NGO Oxfam maintained that “the rich countries have committed themselves to offer safe haven to 37.432 people, which is 1% out of the 3 million refugees in the neighbouring countries”. In October 2014, when Italy terminated the Mare Nostrum operation, thanks to which more than 150.000 people had been rescued at sea within a year, the Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano stated that the aim of the government was to “entrust the examination of the asylum seekers to outposts of the EU in Africa, where they would assess who is entitled asylum status and who is not.” The Spanish Prime Minister shared the same objective, that is to “externalise” the responsibility for the refugees, seeking ways of rejecting the asylum requests, if possible, before they enter the country by crossing the Moroccan borders.

Last summer indications showed that something was about to change, with a provision that 160.000 refugees from Greece and Italy would be relocated to other EU countries. Out of 160.000 refugees, however, only 937 people were included in this programme.
 
The End of the Illusion: the Greek Government played a Key Role to putting an End to the Geneva Convention

Let us go back to the EU-Turkey Agreement. A key to the suspension of the right to receive asylum, Liberation points out, is the recognition of Turkey as a safe third country. This is the legal framework, the European Commission has come up with since Wednesday: if someone applies for asylum in Greece, their file will be examined at a certain hot-spot and if it turns out that they came in Greece through Turkey, a safe third country, their request will be rejected. According to euro2day.gr, this was a request on the part of the Greek Prime Minister: “we call EASO and the European Commission,” it is stated in the relevant document, “to contribute by submitting reports that confirm that Turkey, as a first country of asylum and as a third country, is safe,” as if the government is clueless of the issues of security in our neighbouring country. As if anyone would be persuaded by the very same chorus we listen to repeatedly after every failure, as we have done already in this case: “if only you knew how much worse things would have been otherwise...”
 
The Refugee Crisis is Neither Exceptional nor Temporary
All those who scarcely followed the developments of the refugee issue should know that the refugee “crisis,” which was supposed to be solved by the Agreement, is nothing more than the predictable impasse of a European policy focused on managing/ preventing the “unwanted” strangers – an impasse against the equally foreseeable consequences of the lingering bloodshed in the Middle East.

As far as Greece is concerned, the duration and the dimension of the “crisis” could have been predicted from at least mid-2014: the humanitarian crisis in the islands of the North Eastern Aegean Sea and the urgent needs for accommodation and medical treatment, which were brought to light by the hunger strike of the Syrian people in December 2014, had signified the issue. Nevertheless, the EU as well as the Greek governments dealt with it as if it was a temporary phenomenon.

In view of the worsening crisis, which is any case difficult to handle by means of a ruined state apparatus, the present government took some initiative contrary to the misanthropic policy of New Democracy such as prohibiting the refoulements and by abolishing the detention centres. In its second term of office, however, at best it took responsibilities by receiving refugees aiming (in vain) at a certain debt relief, exploiting instrumentally and shortsightedly the humanitarian offer of millions of people all over the country. In the worst case, by denouncing the people who showed their solidarity as “ignorant,” “idealists” or even instigators of illegal actions, the Greek government adjusted to other versions of the European anti-refugee policy: it accepted the militarisation (fences, Frontex, NATO), vehemently argued for the position that “Turkey should receive all the refugees,” and finally opened up the refugee camps, foreshadowing mass refoulements of the “irregular” immigrants. To cut a long story short, not only did it not open the borders, as it was provocatively accused by the right-wing parties, but has already counted more than 300 drowned refugees in the Greek seas.

At the same time, it took no action in order to activate the European Directive 2001/55/EC, for which Syiriza pressed so hard when it was member of the opposition. The Greek Government refused to involve the army to aid with accommodation and feeding efforts, before it finally delegated the whole management of the refugee issue to it. It never occurred to the Greek government to plan ahead for refugee settlements, although the sealing of the Western Balkans’ Route was foreshadowed in several formal documents as far back as October 2015, alluding to the confinement of tens of thousands refugees in the country. Having started from the right position, that the refugee issue is not a national one, but rather a European issue, the government did not think that it should come up with a national plan, apart from fulfilling last minute needs, which were to be covered by the NGOs, as Y. Mouzalas admitted in an interview he gave to SKAI TV. In an effort to balance its role as a guardian and a policeman, the Greek government embraced the assessment that short and long term national planning would weaken the negotiating position of the country against the EU, if it would not be regarded as a signal to the people's smugglers.  Just like that, the deliberate inability of the state apparatus was promoted whereas the negotiating “tool” of the country was exhausted at protecting the national sovereignty of the Aegean Sea, before the well-known eccentricities of the ministers fighting for Macedonia take place.
 
And now what? (Without illusions)

At the moment the number of refugees in Greece amounts to 46.000. While the Agreement with Turkey is waiting be approved by the Greek parliament, according to the Greek government, Idomeni and the islands are going to be evacuated promptly and the people will be directed to the reception centres. Up to this moment, there is no guarantee about the conditions as well as the stay of the refugees in the country.

While the Greek government is committed only by an agreement that abolishes the right to asylum in a safe country and New Democracy pushes for a fiercer implementation of it, it is urgent that this agreement is put to question. First of all, it should not be ratified by the Greek Parliament. Secondly, the spatial segregation of the refugees should be questioned by the very Greek society; the refugees should come to the cities and to the neighborhoods. The accommodation centres do not constitute a solution for a population, which due to the closed borders has no other possibility than to stay in the country. The fulfillment of the needs of the refugees by NGOs is equally precarious; this condition, which has been encouraged by the European Committee by financing humanitarian organisations instead of the government, consolidates that the state withdraws from critical functions that are addressed to the whole of the Greek society, as well as the refugees. The policy of the intentional inability, as a means of pressure towards the EU, jeopardises people's lives and should be abandoned. In view of a historical regression, the solidarity movement should not be taken for granted; for the time being, however, it is our only counterweight to horror.

Translated by Anastasia Lambropoulou

First published in Greek on k-lab, 21.3.2016.
 

 

EU-Turkey deal fails to stem refugee flight to Greece

Karolina Tagaris
 
They waved, cheered and smiled, elated to have made it to Europe at dawn on Sunday in a packed blue rubber motor boat.
 
The 50 or so refugees and migrants were among the first to arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos on day one of an EU deal with Turkey designed to close the route by which a million people crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece in 2015.
 
Exhausted but relieved, the new arrivals wrapped their wet feet in thermal blankets as volunteers handed out dry clothes and supplies.
 
Reuters witnesses saw three boats arrive within an hour in darkness in the early hours of Sunday. Two men were pulled out unconscious from one of the boats amid the screams of fellow passengers and were later pronounced dead.
 
Twelve boats had arrived on the shoreline near the airport by 6 a.m. (0400 GMT), a police official said. A government account put the number of arrivals across Greece in the past 24 hours at 875 people.
 
Under the European Union deal with Turkey, all migrants and refugees, including Syrians, who cross to Greece illegally by sea from March 20 will be sent back to Turkey once they are registered and their asylum claims have been processed.
 
That is expected to take effect from April 4, by which time Greece must have in place a fast-track process for assessing asylum claims. The EU has pledged to help Greece set up a task force of some 4,000 staff, including judges, interpreters, border guards and others to manage each case individually.
 
"The agreement comes into effect from today. Greek authorities have done whatever is necessary and will continue to do what it promised," George Kyritsis, a government spokesman for the refugee crisis, told Reuters.
"Other parties (to the agreement) should also do their part," he said, referring to Greece's EU partners and Turkey.
 
In return, the EU will take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and reward it with more money, early visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.
 
Among the early morning arrivals on the seaweed strewn beach on the south of Lesbos was Syrian Hussein Ali Muhammad, whose studies were interrupted after the war began. He said he wanted to go to Denmark to continue university. Asked if he was aware of the European decision, he said:
"I know that. I hope to cross these borders. I hope I complete my studies here (in Europe), just this. I don't want money, I just want to complete my studies. This is my message."
 
Muhammed, who worked odd jobs in Turkey to pay a smuggler to bring him across, said he did not want to go back. "I worked very, very hard in Turkey, I collected the money to come here ... It's very dangerous and not good."
 
Another arrival, 30-year-old computer engineer Mohammed from Daraa in Syria, said he hoped to stay in Greece until he found a way to be reunited with his wife and son inGermany. "I know the decision. I hope to (meet with) my wife and children," he said.
 
DOUBTS
Doubts remain about whether the deal is legal or workable. It was not clear what would happen to the tens of thousands of migrants and refugees already in Greece.
 
It was too early to say if the deal would be effective, a senior coastguard official said. "We haven't yet seen the terms of the deal properly," said Antonis Sofiadelis, head of the coastguard operations on Lesbos.
 
"But if returns begin I believe it will act as a deterrent. They (migrants) won't want to pay $1,000-2,000 to a smuggler. Everything depends on whether Turkey implements its part of the deal.
"What we're doing on our part is boosting the asylum process."
 
Authorities in Lesbos began removing refugees and migrants from the island on Saturday to make space for new arrivals. The island has a capacity to host 3,500 people at a place set up to register arrivals.
 
At least 144,000 people, mostly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, have arrived in Greece so far in 2016 according to U.N. refugee agency data. About 60 percent were women and children.
 
Of those people, more than half landed on Lesbos, the island on the frontline of Europe's biggest migration crisis since World War Two.
 
Few, if any, had planned to stay in the country, seeking instead a route to northern Europe where more support and jobs are available than in Greece, which is in the grip of an economic crisis.
 
But border closures along the main route north through the Balkans have meant at least 48,000 people are stranded in Greece, in camps and ports across the country. About 12,000 people remain at a squalid tent camp near the Macedonian border hoping to cross.

First published on uk.reuters.com, 21.3.2016
 
 
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