This Monday 18th March marks three years since the EU-Turkey deal came into force. On Saturday 16 th March, a solidarity demonstration will take place at 12pm in Sappho Square, Mytilene, called by international actors working for the rights of migrants on the island. Lesvos Solidarity will stand with those across Europe and Greece resisting the deal and the racism and fascism that has been exacerbated as a result. We will be joining those in Athens, Thessaloniki, and around Europe demonstrating at the same time.
This summer, the number of migrants forced to live in Moria Camp exceeded 10,000, five times above capacity. The camp was described as ‘hell on Earth’. Many warned of a deepening mental health crisis among people forced to live in overcrowded and unsafe conditions. Despite a reduction of those residing inside Moria, conditions are still appalling.
While stranded on Lesvos, migrants are left vulnerable to criminalisation, racist violence and arbitrary punishment. The space for resistance has shrunk, as migrants demanding their rights are harassed by the police and courts. Many spend time in prison, punished for crimes of status. In many cases defendants are forced to spend months in detention before being released. Many of those arrested are subject to deportation to Turkey. Despite being declared a ‘safe third country’, migrants’ rights are routinely violated in Turkey.
Not only does this create a chilling effect on the ability of migrants to resist the conditions in which they are held, it also undermines their will to remain in Europe. In many cases, the hostile environment created for migrants in Greece leads them to ‘voluntarily’ return to the risks of their homeland.
This year, an emboldened rightwing faction has committed acts of racist violence, desecrated memorials to the dead, and intimidated the press to such an extent that journalists in Lesvos went on strike, accusing police of failing to protect them against far-right harassment.
Pikpa camp is an alternative model of reception, a way of welcoming migrants to Europe in which the principles of human dignity and active participation in the community are foregrounded. Yet even here, the EU-Turkey deal has forced people into a state of limbo, waiting in some cases for years on end before they can move on. The effects of the deal are made worse by the lack of available accommodation in mainland Greece, leaving people trapped in Lesvos unable to take the next step towards their future life in Europe.