Refugees, Greek islanders and activists today called on European leaders to heed their plight in a flash mob on a beach on the island of Lesvos symbolising the spirit of “refugees welcome”, organized by Amnesty International and Lesvos Solidarity.
The #ActionLesvos flash mob wrapped a giant fishing net with an EU flag on it around 60 refugees and activists to represent the situation of refugees and migrants trapped on the Greek islands by the EU-Turkey deal.
The flash mob comes after a week of protests in the nearby Moria camp and 10 days before the majority of the EU emergency funding for NGOs supporting refugees in Greece runs out.
“This is a protest against the EU-Turkey deal, which has been trapping people on Lesvos since 2016. Refugees are not criminals. We fled our countries because of hate and came to Europe to seek our freedom, but now we are stuck on the island. We have no option and no hope,” said Hamid Hamid, a refugee activist from Ghana, currently living in Greece, who is one of the activists taking part in the camp and came up with the concept.
The protest called on European leaders to take responsibility for welcoming refugees, by moving them off the Greek islands to the mainland and then relocating them to other European countries.
“This action aims to open the heart of Europeans to the plight of refugees caught in the net of the EU-Turkey deal, which has been trapping refugees and migrants on Greek islands since 2016. Local people also took part in the flash mob because they too feel trapped by the situation and abandoned by the rest of Europe,” said Maria Serrano, Senior Campaigner at Amnesty International.
“The suffering refugees face in Europe is far from over. People need to know that the situation for refugees on Lesvos is dire, desperate and unsafe. With limited access to legal, medical, psychological and other support. Things are likely to get worse, not better, unless European governments change course and welcome refugees.”
The flash mob was held on Kratigos beach, near Mytilene, the main town in Lesvos. The beach was a major landing point for thousands of refugees departing from Turkey in 2015 and early 2016.
In June 2017, 940 refugees and migrants arrived in Lesvos. More than 400 refugees arrived in the first two weeks of July alone. Under the EU-Turkey deal, authorities now prevent refugees and migrants who arrive on Greek islands from leaving, in order to return them to Turkey. This policy has resulted in increased overcrowding, appalling conditions, and mounting anxiety for refugees.
“Before the EU-Turkey deal, we were at least able to support refugees with the hope that all their difficulties and suffering will be over as they were able to cross the borders and arrive in the place they were heading to. Now people are desperate, and suffering more and more psychological problems as they have to wait on the islands to lodge their asylum claim in a lengthy and complex asylum procedure that leaves them in limbo for months,” said Efi Latsoudi from Lesvos Solidarity.
“After a week marred by mounting tensions in Moria camp, we wanted to send a clear message that responsibility lies at the doorstep of European leaders.”
Sixteen months since the EU-Turkey deal came into effect on 20 March 2016, thousands of asylum-seekers continue to wait in limbo in sub-standard living conditions confined to the Greek islands. Frustrations arising from the uncertainty ιncluding delays in the examination of asylum claims of certain nationalitiea, risk of being returned to Turkey and the sub-standard living conditions have at times led to tensions.
A number of protests have erupted on Lesvos since last week. A protest which began peacefully last Tuesday in Moria camp, led to clashes around noon between some protesters and the police. Amnesty International received some allegations of excessive use of force and ill-treatment by the police against protesters and other residents of Moria and has seen video images showing police officers throwing rocks into the direction of some protesters. These allegations must be swiftly investigated by the Greek authorities.
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On 31 July the majority of the EU emergency funding provided directly to NGOs responding to the needs of refugees and migrants trapped on the Greek islands will come to an end. The Greek government will take over the management of all aspects of the migration response, including the distribution of EU funds. However, no plan has been announced by the Greek authorities yet as to how this will be implemented.