Right after URA gave the following interview, the greek vice Minister for Civil Protection and Crisis Management announced the following restriction measurements concerning Moria Camp due to the COVID-19 situation: 1) Only one member per family will get a daily permit to leave the camp and go to the nearest town for buying necessary goods 2) Exiting and entering the camp will be allowed only from 7am to 7pm. 3) There will be public busses leaving every hour. 4)All the measures will be controlled by the police. 5) All NGOS will not be allowed into the camp for two weeks. In addition to all these fences will be erected around migrants camps and special medical centres will be created inside.
What we understand is that these inhuman camps, these open air prisons, instead of being evacuated are being set in quarantine. We must show #coronasolidarity to all humans imprisoned in Moria and all the other camps on the islands. #staythefuckhome does not apply for them, since „home“ means in this case what the people themselves call „jungle“: 20.000-28.000 people in a camp that has a capacity of 3.000, no water for bath and toilet the last three days and a handful of doctors to take care of them. These are the ideal circumstances for the virus to spread and the MSF stated it will be impossible to contain the epidemic once it spreads.
You know who to blame for putting at risk all these lives: the EU and its migration policies, which we still have to find ways to fight also in this new situation for everybody. We do not believe a word from the promises of the greek state and the EU to create a more human situation in Moria. One picture of the camp will persuade everybody that not a cent from all these millions was invested there, but only into the militarisation of the EU borders.
This is why we demand the immediate evacuation of the Moria prison and the transfer of the asylum seekers to a place of safety.
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Two days ago there was a fire in the detention camp Moria on Greece’s island of Lesbos. At least one person was killed. We spoke with activists of URA Dresden, who are currently on site, to get an impression of the situation in and around the camp, the cooperation with the local population and necessary next political consequences.
You are currently on Lesbos: When did you arrive and what are the reasons?
We are a small delegation of antifascists. The last disasters at the external border of the EU with Turkey did not leave us cold. The blackmail attempts of Erdoğan and the isolation policy of the EU dehumanize people seeking protection and make them the plaything of a policy, which will only cause more war, chaos and further flight movements. Especially on Lesbos, the coverage of the last five years has been rather poor. In retrospect, neither the situation in Moria nor on the other islands has improved fundamentally. Politically, there is a lack of will – not only on the part of the Greek government, but also in the rich countries of Europe. Even the decision by seven EU states to admit 1,600 children sounds like a bad joke and has so far been nothing more than hot air. After the attacks by local fascists and parts of the villagers, many journalists have disappeared again. Corona makes the information situation even more precarious, so we are exactly at the right place at the right time. Last but not least we have to stress that we want to promote an exchange with local antifascist structures. How does the local movement react in such exceptional situations. We know a similar situation in Germany. We still remember the events in Heidenau well.
At the moment the Corona crisis seems to overlay everything. The situation in the Turkish-Greek border area is hardly present any more. What is the situation on the ground?
Of course Corona plays a major role here too. Even if there is only one confirmed case on the island of Lesbos so far, it is harder to get an idea of the current situation in the camp from newspapers and timelines in times of pandemic reporting. But the camp and the situation in Moria play at least locally a role and every now and then an article makes it into the German speaking media. In general there is a great fear of the corona outbreak in the camp. The danger that the disease will be brought into the camp from outside is higher than that the people who are there have brought the disease with them, as racists like to claim.
There was already an appeal from Médecins sans Frontières last week to finally do something to improve the disastrous hygienic and medical conditions. The sewage, for example, is provisionally drained off in the so-called jungle via small hand-dug channels right across the entire camp. Furthermore, there are no isolation possibilities, no special treatment of high-risk patients, and no testing. There are an estimated 20,000 to 28,000 camp inmates, but only a handful of doctors. Much of the basic care is currently provided by volunteers and NGOs. For political reasons, for example, MSF has withdrawn from inside the camp and is now providing care outside the camp. SOS Children’s Villages has since ceased its work due to harassment by Greek authorities. Grassroots structures, such as the No Border Kitchen, are also wondering what to do now. The situation can change from day to day.
Yesterday we received reports of a fire in camp Moria, in which, according to current information, at least one child is said to have died. What tasks does the camp face after the fire?
Yes, there was a big fire and we were also on site. At that time the fire was finally extinguished. The cops tried to close off the entrances to the inner area of the camp, there were reports of arrests of journalists and in fact we could not see any of them inside. We talked to residents inside the camp. They told us that the camp administration and the police reacted much too late and that the fire probably burned for up to two hours. There is at least one dead child and camp residents inside are talking about another one. However, we do not know for sure, as yesterday there was also talk of five dead people for a short time.
If you ask what to do now: Well, you could build emergency routes and water connections and paint the walls a nice pink, but that won’t help. The infrastructural tasks alone, which the camp would face, are simply not up to the task, especially since they are the same problems as before the fire. We believe your question has to be answered on a political level: The existence of this camp is inhuman and it is illusory that something can be changed for 23.000 people in such a small space and on this island. The idea of the camps itself is inhuman and always linked to the politics of sorting and sealing off. Everyday life for the people there is hell, marked by misery, scarcity and massive violence by the police and, at night, often among themselves. We say that the camp must be shut down immediately and the people brought to the rich EU states. To us, there is no way around a full evacuation.
Again and again we receive information about attacks by Nazis on refugees, their institutions, journalists and NGOs. How do you see the situation on the ground?
The situation is very challenging to assess, because the information situation is difficult. Activists on the ground have started to compile a chronology of attacks, but many attacks on refugees often go unnoticed. We know that since October 2019 there have been frequent actions by organised right-wing groups. Very regularly there are road blockades and patrols. Thus, at least once the food transport to the camp was sealed off. And often this is an attempt to prevent journalists and NGO workers from entering the camp. But we have also heard about physical attacks and damage to property by fascists. So it is very likely that the fire of the non-state school and supply centre “One Happy Family” was set by these people. One notices that there is no intervention of the security forces. On the contrary, even the local press reports that they are directly involved in the actions against the camp, as are local politicians. In Lesbos, too, the shift to the right seems to bring to light what has long been a part of society’s attitude. This is also noticeable in the parliaments: With the “Free Citizens” (Eleftheri Politis) an explicitly racist party sits in the village parliaments and has won twelve seats in the regional parliaments of the southern Aegean. Subjectively, our experience so far was that we have felt animosity, especially after the two anti-fascist demonstrations on March 14. Nevertheless, we would feel more uncomfortable in some parts of Saxony than walking through the streets here in the evening hours.
Are there possibilities for antifascist counter-activities?
Sure, there are always and everywhere! For example, research work has worked well here so far. Especially as far as fascists from abroad are concerned, it has been possible to counteract them, as was shown by the example of the German IB’s (Identitarian Movement) or the Irish fascist Grand Torino. This led to the fact that these people now do not dare to come into public so easily and hopefully discourages others from coming here. That is why this is also an important field of anti-fascist work, which can be supported very well without being here.
Apart from that there are of course the usual activities like graffiti and antifascist demonstrations. However, we know a problem of the local antifa movement also from home. Especially in the rural areas, but also here in the capital of the island, the mostly young activists are not regarded as locals. Family ties still play a very strong role in the province. There it is not so much about a political attitude, but about personal conflicts. In addition, many of the villagers are armed and would also use these weapons, as could be observed in the recent uprisings against the newly planned closed camps. We have also heard from refugees that they protect each other and that this is of course an issue with them. Even the term antifa is familiar to many and has positive connotations. It is therefore a pity that we have not seen an organized joint struggle between Refugees and Antifa so far. In general, it will unfortunately be difficult for the local anti-fascist scene to reverse the political discourse on the island, because the right-wingers with their blockades and their anti-NGO attitude have found socially accepted forms of action and the antifascists now have to find an answer to this without getting stuck on the defensive.
What is the cooperation with NGOs and the inhabitants of the island?
Some of our local contacts work in the NGOs. The relationship is generally divided. There are residents who say that the NGOs would not improve the situation. It sounds to us like the accusation of misery administration. Of course many people on the island are frustrated and feel left alone. You always have to look at the whole situation against the background of a German-European austerity dictate for years. But none of this is an excuse for racist attacks. Nor is it an excuse for declaring NGO employees the target of violence.
On the other hand, there is of course also an emancipatory criticism of NGOs. But this is very constructive. On the one hand, there is internal networking of NGO workers, for example about working conditions within the NGO. The working conditions can also be harshly exploitative, fixed-term contracts, worse wages for Greek workers compared to Central Europeans. This network has fallen somewhat asleep due to current events. But people are now active on other levels, for example in organising demonstrations. On the other hand, there are also numerous solidarity projects on the ground, which do not necessarily have to have an NGO character. But in between there are often mixed forms. In the long term, however, we believe that we cannot avoid fighting together. With all the shitty things that the local people have to go through here, however, we have to look very carefully to see whether tourism has really collapsed and whether it is really due to the refugees that this is so. Yesterday we got figures on this, which we will have to look at first, if we can find a quiet minute here at all.
There is also a kind of NGO business from which many people on the island benefit. Taxis are used more, hotel rooms are rented out to NGOs, shops make better sales or have restructured their range of products to a cheaper price range in order to meet the demand of the refugees. We still have to talk to people a lot to be able to make really well-founded statements. It is important for us to demystify all the statements and to obtain reliable facts.
It is not possible for all activists to provide practical support on the ground. What do you think is a meaningful help for the people on Lesbos that we can also provide from elsewhere?
The most sensible thing would be if people in the rich countries of Europe would organize themselves and put massive pressure on these countries to finally accept people from the camps who are looking for protection. That will not be easy, because there are hardly any people among them who have not suffered trauma and health problems. But any person who still thinks that the European idea of human rights is more than just a hollow phrase should act decisively now.
Corona does not, of course, make things any easier now, but it may be an opportunity to point out the urgency of an evacuation. It is important that not only left-wing or anti-racist scenes are mobilised, but also broad sections of society. In our opinion, the people in this camp uphold human dignity and basic human and fundamental rights against Europe. We should take an example from them. For, in addition to the terrible things that happen in such a camp – after all, it is a situation of coercion in which people are trapped – there is also massive solidarity, openness and friendliness. People from the camp always welcomed us openly and friendly and helped us to avoid police barriers, for example, so that we could report and be eyewitnesses.
But also for those who just want to donate: We will try to find projects worthy of support in the next few days. But once again: The western left must finally learn to fight again, to address broader sections of the population and thereby build up pressure. Something has to happen now. We believe that this will bring more than a Solidarity party in the local Autonomous Center for a school project here. Because only this pressure can change the political situation. You have to keep in mind that conditions like in Moria take place on European soil and not in a civil war country. People who do not want to change this are complicit in every death, every victim of rape and violence in this camp. In Moria alone there are 8 000 children and young people whose future is being systematically destroyed by current policies.
Can you estimate how the next months will develop on the ground, what dangers do you see? Are there perhaps also opportunities that could develop from the situation?
That is a difficult question. We still have too little insight into the local situation. The fire has shown that things can always change or intensify spontaneously. It is important that local antifascist structures find answers to actions of organized Nazis. The time of a balance of power seems to be over and so there must be pro-active approaches on the part of the antifascists. But we don’t want to go too far, but rather talk even more to local people to understand the situation better.