Turkey has suspended its refugee deal with the European Union by withdrawing key personnel, presumably to try and force the EU to meet its part of the deal. Meanwhile, Greeks are taking matters into their own hands, and working directly with refugees to find a solution to the crisis.
A faltering deal
At the beginning of this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened the EU with ‘bus loads of refugees’ unless a deal was agreed. Conditions included visa-free roaming for Turkish citizens and billions of euros for Ankara to organise refugee facilities. Eventually, the deal was agreed in March, and some of the funds were provided. Turkey, for its part, slowed down considerably the number of refugees fleeing to Europe.
But now, Turkey has withdrawn its officials from Greece. And this means that none of those refugees who made it to Greece and are awaiting return to Turkey can be processed. No doubt Erdoğan hopes that, by suspending the arrangements, the EU will finally agree to visa-free travel.
For refugees trying to flee Middle Eastern conflicts, this is good news. But the Greek authorities are simply not resourced to cope with the large numbers of people (there are still around 57,000 refugees on Greek soil, thanks to the closure of borders in the Balkans). Many of these refugees are detained in squalid camps.
In the video below, you can see some of the conditions in one refugee camp:
One year on from the tragic death of a three-year-old Kurdish boy, Alan Kurdi, a Human Rights Watch report has revealed that thousands of people are currently waiting on the Greek islands in detention centres without proper access to health care, sanitation facilities, or legal aid.
Some refugees are managing to avoid the border guards and make their way northwards. Others, though, are taking a longer and more dangerous route via Libya to Italy.
Turkey suspends co-operation
Vincent Cochetel, director of the UN Refugee Agency’s European Bureau, has explained how the planned arrivals of refugees from Turkey have now stopped altogether. This was due to the recent withdrawal of Turkish liaison officers from the Greek islands.
One Greek police officer (unnamed) commented:
They come by train to the village of Mouries and try to cross over, through woods and along the shores of Doirani Lake… Others try to [cross the border] outside the village of Hamilo, near Idomeni.
The returns (deportation) process has also been affected. A landmark decision in the Greek courts back in May ruled that Turkey was an unsafe country for returning refugees.
So far, only 2,681 refugees have been sent to other countries by the Greek authorities. The total number of pledges so far from EU countries would allow just 11% of the target of 66,400 refugees and asylum seekers to be relocated by September 2017. France (2,570), Romania (772), and Portugal (730) are the top EU member states in terms of relocation pledges.
Refugees taking direct action
Also, in Kilkis, northern Greece, hundreds of Syrian and Iraqi refugees from the Hersos camp have clashed with police as they blocked a highway leading to the border with the FYROM (Macedonia).
There was also a report of refugees staging demonstrations at four sites around Greece, to protest delays in asylum procedures promised under the EU agreement with Turkey. The same report mentioned how around 500 refugees, chanting “open the borders”, had gathered in Thessaloniki.
And now for some good news
Anarchists in Greece have been providing squatted accommodation – abandoned schools, hotels etc. – for refugees since the current conflict in Syria began. And as soon as the Greek authorities organised evictions of these premises, more buildings have been squatted. Now, there is a vast network of squatted refugee centres, all organised by anarchists.
Perhaps the most well known squatted refugee centre is Notara 26, in the centre of Athens. The building was first squatted in September 2015, and can house around 100 refugees at any one time. For the first three months alone, more than 1,700 refugees and migrants stopped over at the centre before travelling on. Sadly, the squat was recently firebombed by unknown actors (who were assumed to have an anti-refugee agenda).
Another squatted refugee centre in Athens is an abandoned hotel – the City Plaza. Others include Orfanotrofeio and Hurriya in Thessaloniki. Near Notara, meanwhile, is EL CHEf – a food collective set up in 2008 at the height of the economic collapse in Greece which now provides food not just for homeless people but for refugees, too.
Also, the occupied self-managed factory of Vio.Me in Thessaloniki became a warehouse for the collection, storage and transportation of basic essential goods. These include clothes, sanitary items, and baby food that had been gathered by solidarity collectives from all over Greece and Europe. They will then be shipped to the Eidomeni border, to be handed out to refugees.
These centres are run more like collectives, with decisions made by everyone on an equal basis. Likewise, all domestic and social activities involve every person at the centre. In short, these collectives are mini-societies, practising democracy on a day-to-day basis.
Perhaps this is how the refugee crisis will be solved – not by governments, but by ordinary citizens taking action.
– See more international reporting from us at The Canary Global.
– Donate to Help Refugees UK (to support refugees in the ‘Calais Jungle’).
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Feature image via Flickr Creative Commons
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