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,


 

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

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.
 

 

No more refugees, just “irregulars”...

The deal of shame between E.U.-Turkey

 Stratis Bournazos

Below are some comments in immediate reaction to the agreement as announced on the afternoon of 18th March. We at AnalyzeGreece! consider this agreement to be of particular importance and gravity, which is why we sought to formulate an immediate reaction to it.

1. The agreement reiterates and fully confirms the main points from the statement made by EU leaders on 7th March (except for the added extensive references to international treaties and individual asylum claiming processes – obviously to calm the backlash the absence of these created), a statement strongly criticised by all humanitarian organisations, which claimed that it undermines international law. As regards today's agreement, I will refer to the first, immediate response by Amnesty International: “horrendous deal had been sealed shame on EU”, according to Iverna McGowan (head of Amnesty International al’s EU office), “a cyanide pill” to refugee rights”, according to John Dalhuisen (Amnesty’s Director for Europe and Central Asia”, while the press release is entitled “A historic blow to human rights”. Moreover, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), calls it “the deal of shame”: “European leaders have decided to barter migrants’ and asylum seekers’ dignity and rights for selfish short-term political gain. Such cynicism is despicable”.

2. The main aim, axis and core of the agreement is the stopping of flows from Turkey to Greece and Europe, not the tackling of the refugee crisis, much less the provision of international protection to those who have a right to it, and the protection of refugees. As such, the word “refugee” is only very rarely used in the text; instead, reference is made to migrants and “irregular migrants”. If, however, according to UNHCR data (as cited in a comment by Marilena Katsimi of Facebook), of those crossing the Greek border 91% are refugees (45% Syrian, 28% Afghan, 18% Iraqi - of whom 36% are children and 21% are women), this clearly means the stemming of refugee flows. In other words, the de facto abolition of international treaties, above all the Geneva Conventions, which require the provision of international protection to those in need: if all those wishing to come to Europe (the vast majority of which are refugees), are to be stopped, then they have no access to international protection.

3. For the reasons above, the three “filters for the reduction in flows”, to which Alexis Tsipras referred during the press conference, are all too eloquent. First, the war against traffickers, second, the presence of NATO ships, third, those who manage to pass through these two filters and who reach Greece will in essence be excluded from relocation (as they will be placed at the bottom of the list). In the words of the Prime Minister: “The first filter –and this is an obligation taken on by Turkey– is the dismantling of the network of traffickers operating on Turkish shores. The second filter is the operation of NATO.Turkey has now committed to withdraw the objections it has been posing until now, so that NATO operations can be carried out efficiently and effectively. The third filter was decided upon today. When neither the first nor the second filter are effective, we provide refugees and migrants with a strong disincentive to make use of trafficking networks so that they may reach the Greek islands: those who do come will not have priority in the relocation process and, if they are irregular migrants, they will be swiftly returned. If they are migrants in need of international protection, their claim will be examined on an individual basis [...]. We believe that the message of today's decision, the agreement between the EU and Turkey, is the activation of these three filters, so that we may have an immediate result the reduction of flows from Turkish shores to the Greek islands”. I think the filters speak for themselves, but I will make three comments, one for each filter.

Comment #1: when no legal and safe passage is available, no safe route, everyone, including refugees, makes use of trafficking networks. Therefore, if one takes the decision to “end irregular migration”, as stated in the agreement, then, in the absence of a legal route, one also puts an end to the possibility of refugees coming to Europe (or, more correctly, one makes the journey more expensive and dangerous, as new routes and illegal networks will without doubt be created). Comment #2: NATO ships will, in other words, act as a mobile sea fence throughout the Aegean, which will prevent refugees from reaching the coast. Comment #3: “they will not have priority”. That is, they will be punished, thereby having their right to relocation forfeited.

4. “All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey”, reads the text of the agreement. A key question here is: Who is considered an “irregular migrant”? What will happen to, for example Afghans and Iraqis? I don't think there is any room for optimism: based on the overall spirit of the agreement - everyone will be considered to be irregular, except, perhaps, Syrians. And I say perhaps because there is no certainty even for Syrians. The agreement states that “for every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU” – wording which reveals that Syrians will be returned, too.

5. Yet how will Syrians, who are prima facie considered refugees, be returned to Turkey, especially in light of the fact that the agreement makes explicit reference to respect for international law. The key term here is “safe third country”, which is used in the text. If Turkey is declared a “safe third country”, then Syrians can be returned legally. Of course, declaring Turkey to be a “safe third country” is both arbitrary and provocative, as Turkey has closed its borders with Syria, international organisations condemn it for refugee arrests and abuse, as well as expulsions and push backs to Syria and Iraq, there is no system for claiming asylum in place (except for European citizens, and temporary protection for Syrians), and it is not safe even for its own citizens: at the moment in which the agreement is signed, authoritarianism by the Davutoglu government is in its zenith, with pogroms against Kurds, mass arrests and the persecution of academics and journalists. By the way, the added status granted to Erdogan and Davutoglu through the agreement, precisely at this moment, is scandalous.

6. The resettlement programmes, unfortunately, look like a joke. Out of a total of 2.5 million Syrians in Turkey (a number which goes up to 3 million if we take account of the Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis), only 72,000 will be resettled – an infuriatingly small number, which confirms once more that the agreement bears no relation to any attempt to solve the refugee crisis.

7. Finally, as regards the references being made in the agreement to respect for international law, the processing of individual asylum claims, etc. Very briefly, and running the risk of being un-nuanced, I will say that not all of the eggs can be put in one basket. If the main aim is to curb refugee flows, this cannot take place whilst respecting international law. I will once more cite John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International (by the way, the fact that in the last few days we keep referring to texts by NGOs and humanitarian organisations, not by left wing political parties, is telling – but that is a different story): “Promises to respect international and European law appear suspiciously like sugar-coating the cyanide pill that refugee protection in Europe has just been forced to swallow.”
           ***
We will continue our coverage of this very important issue over the next few weeks. Concluding this commentary, I would like to say that the agreement is not a diplomatic success, as Alexiis Tsipras stated, but a significant defeat and embarrassment. Starting today, we must, both in Greece and in Europe, organise our resistance to the agreement. #StopTheDeal, #Refugees Welcome!

PS. Two pieces of good news, coming from Spain, on a Saturday, no less: at  Madrid city hall, the EU flag is at half mast in protest, while in Barcelona a large rally took place against the agreement (rallies had also taken place in previous days, while the Spanish Parliament had rejected the “preliminary” agreement of 7th March).

Stratis Bournazos is a journalist and historian, member of the editorial board of AnalyzeGreece! and Enthemata Avgis.\

Translated by Despina Biri

First published  in Greek on "Enthemata" of the newspaper "Avgi", 20.3.2016.

 

​​EU-Turkey non-deal: snap analysis

Paul Mason

The EU Summit on 7 March failed to reach agreement with Turkey but the outline of the deal to be done on 17–18 March is clear. Here’s the bullet points from the Heads of State statement, together with my commentary. These are enumerated as “principles”.Your head of state has signed up to them:

* “To return all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands with the costs covered by the EU;”
… Not legal. If these “irregular migrants” claim asylum they are a refugee and protected from return under international law until their claim has been processed. It will be challenged in the courts immediately.

* “To resettle, for every Syrian readmitted by Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian from Turkey to the EU Member States, within the framework of the existing commitments;”
…This presumably starts on implementation, and is not retrospective. It leaves around 30,000 refugees and migrants stranded in Greece, which is manageable. But it replaces law with arbitrary power. Who decides which refugees in Turkey get to come to Europe? Why not simply put the ones who want to leave Turkey for Europe on a bus or flight to Berlin, avoiding the peril of crossing to Lesbos, being sent back and then — presumably — joining an arbitrarily organised queue of people in Turkey?
The whole thing would be better organised through the #safepassage demanded by NGOs and will redouble calls for that.

* “To accelerate the implementation of the visa liberalization roadmap with all Member States with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016;”
…Not possible. One state can block it. Will David Cameron sign-off visa free travel for 75 million Turkish citizens to Britain 23 days before the Brexit referendum. Will Poland sign up? Will Cyprus? Dream on.
[Its been pointed out since I wrote this that the visa free agreement is with Schengen only. But the agreement says “all member states” do I think my point is valid.]

* “To speed up the disbursement of the initially allocated 3 billion euros to ensure funding of a first set of projects before the end of March and decide on additional funding for the Refugee Facility for Syrians”
…Remarkably, Erdogan has demanded exactly what he is shown demanding in the leaked Tusk-Erdogan notes, which I have doubted the veracity of. Nevertheless, €6bn would be cheap for Europe if it stemmed voluntarily the desire of people to leave camps in Turkey and come to Europe.

* “To prepare for the decision on the opening of new chapters in the accession negotiations as soon as possible, building on the October 2015 European Council conclusions”
…This is one of the most shameful commitments the EU has ever given. We should state, now, there is no possibility of Turkey joining the EU under the AK Party. In the leaked documents that’s what Erdogan says: put us out of our misery. Europe should, as I suggest in the Guardian, signal to the secular, democratic forces in Turkey that it will re-start accession talks only when there has been a stable democracy for, say, five years, with full commitments to human rights, press freedom etc honoured. We should have no truck with the Christian right who say Turkey cannot enter because it is muslim, or because it will flood Europe with cheap labour: the issue is democracy. Turkey cannot begin accession talks because it does not meet the Copenhagen criteria for membership, and is moving in the opposite direction. I think there will be outrage way beyond the Christian right in Europe over this, if it happens.

* “To work with Turkey in any joint endeavour to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria which would allow for the local population and refugees to live in areas which will be more safe”
…Is this a commitment to create a safe haven? Militarily? Via the Turkish military, which has been covertly supplying IS, and bombing the Kurds? If not, the onus on EU leaders is to say so sharpish because there is no consent in Europe for the creation of safe havens, welcome though they would be.
***
And that’s it. Nothing on human rights in the entire document; nothing about stop bombing the Kurds; nothing about stop jailing newspaper editors; no incentive to cease burning down the local offices of opposition parties.

The best that can be said is that the negotiations failed and that these are some kind of holding position to stop Erdogan pulling the trigger on another million refugees into the islands.

These bullet points, reflecting Turkey’s demands completely, will never be implemented because the EU leaders represent democracies, where international law applies and where entry into commitments — on visas, EU accession etc — is the subject of parliamentary debate. Get real.


Paul Mason is  a journalist,  writer and  Broadcaster. Author of "Postcapitalism — A Guide to Our Future", producer of "#ThisIsACoup documentary".

First published on medium.com/@paulmasonnews

Saturday night with the refugees in Idomeni

Report rom a delegation of the Hellenic League for Human rights to the Nea Kavala hospitality structure and the camp in Idomeni

Kostis Tsitselikis, Meriç Özgüneş, Vivi Verbi

Report, 05.03.2016. Following our previous visits to refugee accommodation, in an attempt to comprehend the issues requiring intervention for the promotion of solutions based on the principles of social justice, we hereby present the findings from our visits to the two camps.

The refugee camp in Nea Kavala, accessible through the road bordering the village, and which is in close proximity to a supermarket, has been in operation for a week, and hosts approximately 3,000 refugees. It is an open structure, without restrictions on exit. It is operated exclusively by the military, that is, there is no civilian staff from the Ministry of Interior/Migration, which creates an issue regarding whose jurisdiction the camp is under.  The camp lies outside the Diavata- Idomeni axis (though very close to the latter), and very few organizations visit it, so that very few humanitarian aid materials are available. We realized this as we were handing over what little milk, toys, clothes and medicines we had. Aid is not distributed following a system, as no civilian staff is available to carry out this work.  We were particularly impressed by the staff which was present (7 people in total, all military), and by the lieutenant in charge of the camp (who performs his duties on a shift basis), and who appeared to be fully aware of his duties, responsibilities, as well as of objective restrictions, as there is no aid, infrastructure or sufficient staff available.

The military is in charge of providing food, using a field kitchen, which covers the needs of refugees with 3 meals/day, but without guarantee that this will continue to be the case following new arrivals. One doctor is based permanently at the camp. However, the tents appear to be entirely inappropriate for the weather at this time of year, as they do not close from below, while there is also no heating. 50 portable toilets do not sufficiently cover the needs of the refugee population. There is some electrical lighting in certain places, but not throughout the camp. The refugees we met with were not dressed appropriately for the weather.  We saw children with no shoes on. The refugees are staying in the camp without incident, waiting until they can continue their journey to Idomeni, where the much coveted border crossing is located, while withstanding all the  inadequacies in the camp (as regards both infrastructure and services).  The camp, at the state in which it was when we visited, could not possibly meet the standards for infrastructure and services, in spite of the goodwill that the staff demonstrates.

The camp in Idomeni, approximately 20km north of Nea Kavala, continues to grow, as the number of people leaving it has for the past few weeks remained very small. We will not repeat what is already known with regard to living conditions, as media and other coverage is ongoing. We must stress that the state is absent from the camp, barring a few police officers surveying the final 100 metres leading to the «exit gate».

Approximately 4,000 of the 14,000 people are camped inside large tents, which until recently formed the relatively «contained» camp, while most of them are camped in the area around those large tents, in makeshift shelters or without any shelter at all. Most of them have no access to heating (the large tents being the exception), with few portable toilets which do not cover needs, with very light meals and insufficient running water; many set out to the village of Idomeni on foot, or even to Polikastro, to take a shower. We spoke to an Iraqi family, who mentioned that police do not allow taxis to approach the camp, thereby putting more stress on the already exhausted people seeking the bare necessities outside of the camp.  Small fires for heating, burning wood or (mainly) garbage, make for a very stuffy atmosphere. As regards the presence of organizations, UNHCR, doctors, those preparing food and more generally all those providing all kinds of aid, there is no need to report anything beyond what is already known;  they provide the only significant amount of aid (which is randomly distributed, however) to desperate, exhausted and ill people (many of whom are elderly and small children), living in adverse conditions, in the hope of crossing the border.

Police officers in the «border crossing zone» appeared polite, making every effort to do something amidst the chaos, which is largely self-regulated but also inappropriate for the country as a whole. Following a detailed account by a police officer, we realized that only certain refugees may cross the border (that is, only Syrians or Iraqis holding passports or hotspot entry documents - to the degree that this is permitted by Austria and the Balkan states between Greece and Austria), on the basis of their date of entry into Greece.  For example, on the day of our visit, only those who entered Greece on 18th February were allowed to cross the border. Yet this was not widely known, except by those who had access to this information, which in turn created congestion in the area surrounding the border gate.  Those who did not make it, had the right to cross on the following day, and so on.

As a result, the congestion and generally indescribable situation in Idomeni could be avoided using a system for disseminating information, and of course through the creation of 12,000 places for refugees to stay in the wider area, even similar to the conditions in the Nea Kavala camp, assuming that the periods of stay would be pretty short. Many problems would have been solved through the organized transport of those who do have a right to cross the border on the basis of the admittedly rational criterion of date of entry. In the end, the numerous international television channels with their satellite connections –who take up the main «road» of the «camp»– feed into the European and global discussion by shaping positions and contributing to political decision-making on an issue which, had there been sufficient political will and coordination, would not exist. At least not in the manner described above.

The Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR) is the oldest human rights organization in Greece (set up in 1936). HLHR operates with a continuous presence and activity in line with its statute, namely the protection of human rights in Greece. Since its establishment is a permanent member of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and represents this network in Greece and participates in its organs.
 

Translated by Despina Biri



 

Dora Bacoyiannis and refugees as “continued punishment”

 Challenging the everyday racism of normality
 
Benjamin Dalton
 
On the evening of 23rd February, I was lucky enough to attend the BBC World Service “World Questions” event in the audacious Megaron Concert Hall in Athens (which will be broadcast on Saturday 27th February). For a long time now I have avidly watched “Question Time”, though I admit to finding myself frequently disheartened and bemused, if not outraged, by the guests and their so-called “answers”. Nonetheless, I was exceedingly excited to participate in the discussion on the topic of Greece and the EU, chaired by Jonathan (not David) Dimbleby, including a panel consisting of Euclid Tsakalotos, the Finance Minister of Greece, Dora Bacoyannis, former Mayor of Athens and Foreign Minister, Despina Koutsouba, member of the Region of Attica Council and the Association of Greek Archaeologists (and a member of Antarsya – theAnticapitalist Left Cooperation for the Overthrow) and Josef Janning, Head of European Council on Foreign Relations Berlin Office and Senior Policy Fellow.

Moreover, I was overjoyed to have my question selected as a guide to the discussion which read as follows: “Is it time for the West and the EU to acknowledge that tough anti-immigration sentiments, and the laws and policies they influence, are deeply rooted in racist ideologies?”

I must say that the most revealing response came from Dora Bacoyiannis, who unsurprisingly appealed to the populist “continued punishment” that the current influx of migrants and refugees imposes upon the Greek people. She went on to vaguely touch upon the strain on services and the lack of resources which was met with rapturous applause from the suited and booted audience of aging Athenian business people and ‘expatriates’ (read: not immigrants!) from the US, UK and elsewhere.

Whilst the answer was a terrible one, I was pleased that it pointed directly to the heart of my question. There is no defense for tough anti-immigration policy that doesn’t, in some way, rely on the supremacy of specific persons or nations over another and the unfair preservation of their freedoms and privileges over those of the people they are trying to keep out. I would like to hear from Bacoyiannis what, precisely and specifically,  the nature of this punishment she speaks of is, other than the potential presence of black and brown people bothering her (and other people with similar class backgrounds) for change as she saunters down the polished marble streets of Kolonaki. Heaven forbid one should actually move into the house next door to her Kipseli mansionette.

The applause I mentioned from the near homogenously conservative audience would have anyone believe that these were the victims of said influx. And yet, with the quaffing of red wine and fingering of the cheese boards and snackettes so graciously provided by the British Council, I sincerely doubt this is the case. Perhaps they feel taxed by the guilt of their relative opulence? Again, I doubt it. It is likely that they are so far removed from the day to day struggles and strife of those ‘below’ them that they can achieve comfort when they see the world twisted through the warped lens of media and country club gossip which includes them within the narratives of crisis, if not the actual experiences.

My point here is that the non-racist justifications for anti-immigrant policy and sentiment are based on warped logics such as those Bacoyiannis so kindly presented. There is a general view that migrants are here at the expense of other people, as if they are taking something from the Greeks, when this is just not the case. Study after study indicates net economic benefit coupled with disproportionate lack of public service use when migrants are allowed to operate as human beings. This is not to diminish the real struggle which has become part of Athenian life that is plain to see almost everywhere for its people, but the two are not causally linked and claiming so makes a joke of everyone involved.

The main limit to “migrant benefit” is actually constraints upon their freedoms, which in turn result in laborious processing procedures, arrests, detention and other strains on public services.

I had met with a Sri Lankan woman earlier that day who explained her predicament of having serious health problems but no access to medical care. Eventually she produced an X-Ray which clearly showed the ‘stones’ somewhere in her abdomen. It was obtained at vast and non-disposable expense because the lady was undocumented. She told me that she had been given some kind of exemplary card by an NGO for those in dire need of medical attention. The card was of course refused by the doctors, who probably, like everyone else, have no idea what it means or what it’s for.  

For Bacoyiannis to claim that these people are putting exorbitant pressure on public services is disingenuous to say the least. The pressure falls mainly upon NGOs and informal services as a result of failing public services and not the other way around. We can see this in the example of the Asylum Service outsourcing its workload and asking NGOs to offer Skype for appointments. This has essentially led to huge amounts of their otherwise valuable time being used on constantly calling Katehaki (where the Asylum Service is located), to infrequent avail. This is not to mention the pressure on the migrants themselves which is something they have more in common with members of the public than Bacoyianni has with the people.

The racist ideologies to which I alluded in my question are pervasive, insidious and highly normalised. So much so that they are given frequent platform by institutions such as the BBC and espoused with abandon in parliaments across Europe. The inevitable effect is further normalisation and acceptance by their consumers, serving to galvanise their influence as tools to be exploited by politicians and the military industrial complex. These are not views we should have to digest as members of society. The reality is in front of our eyes but not so plain to see. It is a shame that they appear from one of the world’s most respected and widespread news sources under the guise of ‘impartiality’ but this must be a lesson to us all to question everything, use our own brains and not believe the hype!



Benjamin Dalton is Generation 2.0 RED member

 

Ai Weiwei & the aestheticization of refugees

Despina Biri
 
When I was a philosophy student, we often examined the ethical thought experiment of the drowning child, in all its variations. Devised by utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer, the main claim is that “if you can save a life without sacrificing anything of moral significance, you ought to do so”. The implications of applying this principle are far reaching. What if the child is far away from you? What if there are many children, and you have no way of assessing which one is in most urgent need? The list of questions goes on. Singer’s argument is not without problems, but the parallel between the thought experiment and what is happening now in Europe is an obvious one to draw.

Clearly, the very image of drowning children is now a daily occurrence in Europe. How are we to respond? How are we responding, in the here and now? The answers we give to these questions have implications that are both practical as well as ethical.

An important dimension of the answer, or attempted answer, we are collectively giving to the increased refugee arrivals into Europe at this point in time is, curiously, related to the aesthetic, not directly the ethical, aspect. What do photography, performance and visual art have to say about the way we see refugees?
 
A recently created photograph depicting Chinese artist Ai Weiwei posing as Aylan Kürdi, is interesting in this respect. The reason for this is that, in attempting to “raise awareness about the plight of refugees”, Weiwei ends up aestheticizing. That is, he uses what has now become a symbol of refugee deaths in the Mediterranean in a way that, somehow, brings to mind a fashion shoot (try googling “refugee fashion”). In posing as Aylan, Weiwei strips the original image of its visual impact, rendering it instead a mere substitute of a representation (that is, of another substitute). A cultural signifier, which has come to symbolize all refugees coming into Europe in 2015 and beyond, but which cannot possibly serve as anything but an approximation of the reality (that is, death by drowning). The original image is thereby stripped of its connotations, signifying the result of unspeakable violence, instead becoming just another way to visually represent “what it is to be a refugee”. The reason why it does not quite achieve its purpose is simple; reactions to the original image were a mixture of shock and grief, to the point where, as we have previously argued of powerlessness, similar to the reactions to a natural disaster.

To clarify: A relevant distinction to draw from here would be between the image of Weiwei (and similar depictions or representations of the life of refugees), and the corpus of work by Michael Haneke. Close examination of Haneke’s work reveals a preoccupation, fixation even, with how violence is depicted (or not depicted), and used as a plot device in cinema. In numerous interviews, Haneke has argued that, often, not showing acts of violence has a greater impact upon the viewer than actually showing them in all of their minuscule gory detail. The moral reason for this aesthetic choice is uncomplicated: we must not become accustomed to witnessing acts of violence, or their results, stripped of context and without room to reflect upon the choices we must now face in response to this violence. Yet Weiwei’s photograph does just that: it uses the pose as a device for ostensibly raising awareness, but in doing so, it normalizes what is the result of war and the struggle of millions to escape it.
 
However, there is still something which we do not see: how people came to be refugees. We seldom see the bombings, the terror campaigns, the troops deployed to fight Daesh. In this sense, what Weiwei is doing is sensationalize the product of that violence. However, violence and its result are not easy to distinguish between in the context of flight from war. Firstly because, it could be argued, the very event of flight can be considered violence in itself, and secondly because, especially with the ever hardening stance of the EU against refugees, fleeing from violence in the Middle East, Africa or the subcontinent  is met with another type of violence on European soil, of which drowning is only the most obvious form.

To be sure, Weiwei is not the only culprit here; the photograph of dead Aylan was already one of the most viewed images in 2015, well before Weiwei posed as him. This in itself reveals much about the way we collectively react to what I, for what it’s worth, refuse to call a crisis – that is, the arrival of war stricken people in Europe. The photograph of dead Aylan is, furthermore, the modern equivalent of starving children in Somalia in the 80s; those images, like the photo of Aylan now, are used and shared in an attempt to mobilize and raise awareness but, through overuse, the audience becomes desensitized. “Feed the World” is just another Christmas chorus; Aylan, the only name that survives among hundreds of thousands.

Going back to philosophy, Singer argues that, were we able to save the drowning child by, for example, sending $700 to her country, instead of buying the latest iPhone, then we ought to do so. Certainly, the volunteer experience on the Greek islands shows that many people would very much agree with Singer. However, at the same time, we run the risk of, inadvertently or not, aestheticizing; thinking we can save the drowning children by taking photographs of them, or of ourselves as them, using the latest $700 iPhone.



Despina Biri is a researcher and writer on health care issues.  She blogs at despinabiri.wordpress.com  and bakterienfureureseele.wordpress.com
 
  • Published in CULTURE

Tabloid “Proto Thema”: Racism on the front page

Well before the tragic events in Paris many feared that a terrorist attack οn European soil would serve to scapegoat the large numbers of Syrian refugees making their way to Europe via Greece and Italy. Indeed, right-wing populist forces across Europe are now raising the question of tighter border controls and tougher screening for refugees. Yesterday alone the British Home Secretary sought to reassure the public by arguing that the few refugees that the UK government has agreed to host will be taken directly from refugee camps after enhanced security screenings (). In Eastern Europe, Poland became the first government openly considering to backtrack on the recent EU agreement regarding the implementation of a migration quota system.
 
Heading further South, the public discussion in Greece was overshadowed this weekend by the ‘revelations’ of a leading Greek tabloid regarding the origins and trajectory of a Syrian passport found in one of the scenes of the carnage in Paris. Greece’s most popular Sunday newspaper (Proto Thema) proudly ‘released the names of the two migrants involved in the terror attack that had passed through Greece on October 3’ adding that ‘Just 39 days later on Friday, November 13, they were outside the Stade de France game at 9.30 p.m. where the first “kamikaze” bomber who had explosives tied to him carried out the first attack in the name of the Islamic State’.
 
The tabloid, known for its ideological ties with Golden Dawn, did not share any of the doubts raised by French, English and American media outlets regarding the direct association of a Syrian passport with one of the terrorists. Moreover, relying on sources from the Greek security apparatus, it also made reference to the existence of one more alleged ‘terrorist’. More tellingly, when in the evening it became clear that the aforementioned passport was in all likelihood fake and might have been used as a propaganda tool by ISIS, the Greek tabloid did not bother to modify the story. Rather, it published a second self-congratulatory piece, this time in Greek, reveling in the ‘success’ of the reproduction of its so-called ‘revelations’ by the main European newspapers. Such tabloids do not make room for nuances.
 
This is not the first time that the Greek press, and the tabloid in question, yield to essentialism and even resort to fabricating stories. However, such stories, regardless of their veracity, bear an explosive dynamic for a country which has found itself in the epicenter of successive economic and political crises of unseen proportions. Moreover, they point to the dark days that lie ahead for Europe as a whole, so long as its member states remain incapable or/and unwilling to address the underlying causes of a multilayered international crisis. Regardless how the passport story unfolds, the fact that a significant portion of Greek media are prone to racism and scapegoating remains.

* Screenshots showing the "news" stories on the Proto Thema website. The story in Greek reads that the unsubstantiated story first published on Proto Thema found its way onto major news outlets like the Guardian. We hereby caution against the indiscriminate selection of Greek news sources in English.

Georgios [Yorgos] Giannakopoulos is an intellectual historian. He studied political science and history in Greece (BA, MA Panteion University, Athens) before embarking on a PhD at Queen Mary, University of London. His research revolves around ideas of nationality and internationalism in early 20th century British thought.



 
 
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