Lesvos – What is behind the tensions on the island?

Mitilini, 10 marzo 2020 – Since Sunday the 8th of March, we have been back on the island of Lesvos with a delegation to keep up the work of monitoring and communication we have started last October with various trips, and to see what the consequences of the new policies enacted after the break of the EU-Turkey deal – wanted by the Turkish president Erdogan – have been.

The temporary opening of the borders by Ankara and the threats by Erdogan have had repercussions on the whole Greek territory, since they have provoked nationalist sentiments to resurface, those sentiments focused on the defence, with any mean necessary, of the national borders.

On the land border between Greece and Turkey, migrants are facing extreme violence and are living in a general state of uncertainty, stuck in a no man’s land and at the range of paramilitary groups; in the meanwhile, here in Lesvos the authorities are getting ready to build new detention camps and last week has seen an escalation, both in intensity and frequency, of cases of neo-Nazi group attacks.
The far-right militants have terrorised the refugees and the NGO workers through violent physical aggressions and arsons organized meticulously, but there has been almost no intervention by the police.

The violence of neo-Nazi groups has led to some volunteers fleeing the island and to some services for the refugees closing down, and above all it is helping the plans of the Greek government to open detention centres and the fact that it has suspended the right of asylum go unnoticed.
In our meetings with activists and volunteers what has become clear to us as a common opinion is the fact that, although they are not openly supported by the Greek government, the neo-Nazi are actually functional as a distraction from the main focus/activity of the conservative government, which is the overall tightening against the migrants.

According to many, the authorities’ aim is that of proceeding undisturbed with their illegal rejections of refugees coming from Turkey and at the same time keep on building the detention camps, as has been decided by the law effective since the 1st of January.

This law is also supported by the European Union that, after Erdogan’s blackmail, looks at Greece as “Europe’s shield” to strengthen and support to the point of legitimizing the shootings taking place on the border and the state of emergency which denies migrants the possibility of disembarking and of asking for asylum.
It is too early to see how this situation can develop, more so after the first case of corona virus has been discovered on the island, a woman who came back last month from Israel.

500 people have been stuck for a week in a military ship in the harbour of Mitilini
500 people have been stuck for a week in a military ship in the harbour of Mitilini

Some activists that have been working on the main EU borders see the beginning of a new phase for the “Greek lab”. With paramilitary groups’ attacks and mass deportations, what is being foreseen in the Aegean islands is similar to the situation in Libya or in Morocco near the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

Much will depend on how the European élites will decide to act with Erdogan and how much money they will offer him. However, the scenario we are going to face isn’t going to be nice, since the EU has decided that it wants to abandon its place as a spectator of the horrors in third countries. It has decided to support the actions of Greece and to say nothing against the tortures against the migrants which are taking place along the Balkan route, and it shows that it is the maker of the repression towards the freedom of movement and the request of asylum by the migrants.

As we are correctly reminded, Italy is one of the first countries to reject and repress. Not only because the Italian government still hasn’t cancelled the deal with Libya, but also because it is an Italian company, the Cantiere Navale Vittoria in Adria, that is providing the patrol boats used in the Aegean Sea by the Greek Coast Guard to reject or sink the boats.

In these same days some Italian patrol boats are stationing as well in Mitilini’s harbour. They have been summoned – according to some activists – to support the Greek Coast Guard in their patrols.

In the meantime, in the main town on the island, an anti-fascist demonstration is being prepared for Saturday 14th of March, against the opening of detention centres. We are staying on the island also to inform you on this important happening organised by the social organizations which have decided not to give in to fear.

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Dopo il viaggio conoscitivo a ottobre 2019 a Lesvos e sulla Balkan route, per documentare e raccontare la drammatica situazione sull'isola hotspot greca e conoscere attivisti/e e volontari/e che si adoperano a sostegno delle persone migranti, è iniziata una campagna solidale lungo la rotta balcanica e le "isole confino" del mar Egeo.
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