“When Germans think about Lesbos they think about the misery of refugees and the horrific fires in the Moria camp. When the Greek government thinks about Lesbos it thinks first about Greece’s safety under threat [from Turkey] and then the refugees.”
The observation of columnist Michael Thumann writing in the online version of the German weekly highbrow paper Die Zeit. Linking the refugee crisis to the Mediterranean/Aegean tension with Turkey, he comments: “For Greece the Mediterranean has become a war-in-sight-zone. Anyone wanting to help refugees should also understand how precarious a situation Greece has got into.
“Anyone looking at a map will comprehend that with its thousands of islands it is practically indefensible – against Turkey.”
Mr Thumann sees Turkey inflating the territorial dispute into a conflict over predominance in the Mediterranean. He cites the time in January President Erdogan had refugees driven to the border with false promises to try to breach Greek fences.
“The tear gas battles at the Evros River was the first tough test for Greece and the collapse of the EU’s refugee pact with Turkey.”
This has left refugees in a lawless space between Athens and Ankara, Mr Thumann writes. But pressure on Turkey is growing, he notes. France, Italy and Greece have just held joint manoeuvres in the eastern Mediterranean. Greece is buying new weaponry, mostly from France. All groups in the European Parliament are demanding sanctions against Turkey. [Author’s note: Yet the EU will be paying Turkey 168 million euros this year to help it prepare for EU membership, negotiations on which have long been on ice because of the dispute with Greece and Turkey’s military involvement in Syria and Libya.]
“What many Germans don’t know: Their chancellor, Angela Merkel, is constantly on the phone these days to [Greek] Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and President Erdogan, discreetly sounding out whether and under what conditions they would negotiate.”
Once the Greeks feel safer from Turkey, there will also be more safety for the refugees, the Die Zeit columnist argues.
Those who speak German can read the entire article here.
Police and the refugee situation on Lesbos
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) allege Greek police are obstructing reporting on the refugee situation on Lesbos, sometimes violently.
For more than a week media workers have repeatedly been hindered in covering the aftermath of the fire, which razed the Moria camp, which held 12,500 refugees, four and a half times as many as it was designed for.
“In order to avoid their contacts with asylum seekers, the police has limited the movement of journalists on Lesbos, going as far as to very violently apprehend the correspondent of the German daily Die Welt,” RSF states on its website. “RSF condemns a strategic restriction of press freedom and right to information, which must be lifted immediately.”
“When Iason Athanasiadis, the correspondent of the German daily Die Welt … saw the police aggressively apprehending several Greeks… he identified himself as a journalist and started talking to one of the arrested men. However, he became himself a target of police violence. Claiming that he did not respect a police order, the officers decided to handcuff him. Three or four of them threw him to the ground and pressed on his body with their knees so hard that he shouted in pain. He was released only after an hour-long detention.”
Ever since the fire the Greek police have alternated between permits and bans for media professionals wishing to enter the Moria camp or a nearby temporary refugee site, RSF writes. As examples of correspondents who have been obstructed it names German ARD public television, a freelance journalist, the French daily Libération, the Franco-German television ARTE, the correspondent of several French media and one working for various English-language media.
“While on some occasions the officers reasoned by the COVID-19, a military operation or just orders, on others they were requesting special accreditations as RSF has learned.”
“The strategy of the Greek authorities is clear,” RSF argues, “discourage journalists from reporting on how they manage the refugee crisis on Lesbos, even at the cost of police violence. They not only violate press freedom, but also deny the right to information to the local and international public as it discusses helping Greece. The authorities must immediately allow journalists to access the refugee sites,” said Pavol Szalai, head of RSF’s EU/Balkans Desk.
The arbitrariness and uncertain working conditions of journalists in Lesbos have been condemned by an open letter to the Greek authorities signed on September 16 by seven press freedom organisations, including RSF. Since 2017 at least, the Greek police has complicated media reporting from Lesbos, prosecuted some journalists and failed to protect others against attacks by anti-immigrant residents.
Greece is ranked 65th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
A German communist online outlet, Rote Fahne (Red Flag) sees Greece as the “enforcer of the imperialist refugee policy of the EU and its treatment of refugees”, the tactic being to deter more asylum seekers crossing the sea from Turkey to Greece.
“Moria and the other camps on the Greek islands were the result of the people-despising imperialist policy of the EU. It was only a question of time before the refugees’ urge for freedom would find a way to break out.”
Video interview with a refugee leader
Meanwhile the intake of up to 150 unaccompanied minors by Germany is expected to begin before the end of this month. Germany and 10 other European governments have pledged to take in 400 minors who lived on Lesvos without parents. Greek media reported that among the 400 were two young Afghans arrested on suspicion of lighting the camp fires. They and four other arrested Afghans were suspects, the Greek media reported.
Although refugees have continued demonstrating on Lesvos for transfer to other countries, 7,000 of the original nearly 13,000 residents of Moria have moved into the new tent city, named Kara Tepe, on land which was previously a firing range. It was hastily erected near the island’s capital, many refugees complaining that police used force to move them in. Almost as many were still shelterless on roadsides, in squares, fields and woods. Doctors and helpers fear more Morias.
“We’re sleeping on dirt or on the road,” reported a group who had been in Moria. “We have nothing to cover ourselves with, not even a jacket against the cold at night and the wind.” Some refugees were even sleeping under trees in a cemetery, they said.
While some queued in the hot sun to get in, many are trying to avoid the Kara Tepe tents, fearing they’ll never be able to leave them. “People’s fears about the new camp are absolutely justified,” Greek lawyer Elli Kriona said in a news conference. “We have no information about the camp, so we can’t advise people adequately to make their own well-founded decisions,” said Ms Kriona, who advocates for asylum seekers on Lesvos.
Fears, stress and anger are increasing, charity workers report. Before the fire Moria had been locked down because 174 Corona infections were discovered. Latest figures mention up to 200. Humanitarian charity workers allege insufficient medical care in the tent city, which the Athens government denies. The United Nations has warned against sheltering the migrants there long-term.
“Disgrace”, “dreadful”, “shattering” were some expressions of shock as the EU Parliament sharply critised the dire state of Lesvos refugees. Its deputies demanded that EU countries finally agree on a long-term solution. Internal affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, emphasised a situation like Moria must not be allowed to recur.
Using one of the biggest cargo planes in the world, Austria has sent aid goods to Lesvos: 400 heatable, electrically connectable family tents, 2,700 inflatable matrasses with padding, 7,400 blankets and 2,000 hygiene packages. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz opposes allowing refugees into Austria.
Germany’s Ms Merkel plans to meet mayors who are advocating for more asylum seekers to be let in. Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert said Germany would make a “substantial contribution”. But he added that the Greek government had made clear that it would take responsibility for the people on Lesvos itself.
The home affairs senator of the Berlin state government, social democrat Andreas Geisel, will fly to Athens on Monday to sound out possibilities for Berlin to take in refugees from Greece, if necessary on its own. The Berlin state government has several times stated its readiness to take in 300 refugees from overcrowded camps on Greek islands. So far the federal home affairs minister, Horst Seehofer, has prevented such moves by Berlin, other states and municipal authorities.
The human rights spokesman of the two “Christian” governing parties in the federal parliament, CDU and CSU, Michael Brand, is demanding that if necessary Germany must go it alone to take in 5,000 refugees from Greece. In past years, Mr Brand fumed, the Moria asylum seekers “were treated worse than we treat livestock”.
“The signal mustn’t be that Europe responds only after refugee camps are set on fire.” But it had to be ensured that only people processed for asylum in Greece could come to Germany.
A German pro-asylum group has called for demonstrations in several cities on Sunday to demand bigger refugee intakes. “No Moria 2.0, no hotspots must be allowed under Europe’s flag,” Pro Asyl said, referring to the Kara Tepe tent city. Pro Asyl is calling people out in the capital Berlin, Munich and Cologne.
Written by a Neos Kosmos reader in Germany