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Afghan refugees end protest in Lesvos after police promises to accelerate asylum procedures

For three days, Afghan refugees occupied Sappho Square in the center of Mytilene on the island of Lesvos demanding to have their asylum procedures are accelerated,. Wearing t-shirts with the date of their arrival, they vowed they would not end their protest until they are given a decision on their asylum cases or transferred to Athens.

Ξέστησαν τις σκηνές και περιμένουν

via Emprosnet.gr

They claimed that many of them are on the island since more than a year and that their interview for asylum have been postponed for  2018. Their main slogans were “Afghanistan is not a safe country, stop deportations now!”

After three days of struggle and while locals started to protest about the occupation of the square and the tents set up every night, protesters packed their things and returned to the camp Moria after police promised to meet their demands.

Below is a press release sent to KTG by No Border Kitchen, a self-organized solidarity group of cooking activists from all over the world that share the aim of supporting people on their journey to Europe.

On Wednesday 28 August a group of 50 Afghan refugees occupied Sappho Square in the heart of Mytilene, Lesvos,
saying they will never return to Moria prison camp. After three days of
struggle, police have promised to meet their demands. The protesters have faced threats and harassment from the Greek police,
and violence and abuse from off-duty Moria prison guards, but vowed they
would not leave until they are given a decision on their asylum cases or
transferred to Athens.

On Wednesday 30 August, they won the agreement from the Greek
authorities that their asylum cases would be decided in two days, by
Friday 1 September. Many of these protesters have been waiting on Lesvos
for 12 or 18 months without a decision, and this promise marks a major
victory of self-organised struggle among refugees. If the promise is not
met, they will re-occupy the square and escalate the protest.

THE PROTEST

On 28 August 2017, over 100 Afghan refugees and supporters marched from
Moria prison camp to Mytilene, the principal city of Lesvos. They wore
t-shirts emblazoned with the date of their arrival on Lesvos, their
asylum status – “no decision” – and the message “I will never return to
Moria.”

They carried a banner reading “refugees are not enemies: the enemies are
those who make them refugees” and chanted “close Moria, open the
borders” and “Azadi, Azadi” – Farsi for “freedom”. Upon arrival, they
set up a peaceful protest camp in Sappho Square, displaying their
banners and demands.

Greek police have repeatedly threatened the peaceful protesters with
arrest and detained community leaders. Nonetheless, the protesters vowed
to remain, bedding down with blankets and singing Farsi resistance songs
into the night.  At 5:00AM on the second night of the protest, two men
arrived on a motorbike, riding up onto the pedestrian square where the
Afghan community was asleep. They shouted abuse and threatened violence,
saying they would return to target particular refugees with attacks, and
swung a punch at one refugee. One of the attackers was identified by
refugees as a guard in Moria prison camp.

The following morning, the Greek authorities promised to meet the demand
for asylum decision by Friday and the camp was vacated.

 

Many of the Afghan protestors have been trapped on Lesvos for over a
year, waiting endlessly for a decision amid the inhumane conditions of
Moria. Inhabitants of Moria must queue for hours every day to collect
meagre food rations, and face constant humiliation and violence at the
hands of the police. The camp is at least 1000 people over its 4000
maximum capacity, with new arrivals sleeping rough in the pathways
between overcrowded containers where refugees live. Self-harm and
suicide attempts are endemic, in a mental health crisis highlighted in a
recent report by Médecins Sans Frontières.

As well as demanding freedom of movement to Athens and a decision on
their asylum cases, the protesters call on Greece to halt all
deportations of Afghans, noting the recent massacre of unarmed civilians
in Mirzaolang as well as daily suicide bombings and US drone strikes as
proof Afghanistan is not a “safe” country, as the EU claims.

STATEMENTS & QUOTATIONS:

Aarif Mohmand*, an Afghan refugee living in Moria, said: “I arrived on
Lesvos on 23 June 2016. I have now been here for more than one year.
Every day there are bombings in Afghanistan – 200, 300 people die. It’s
not safe for us. When we arrived in Lesvos, I thought “we are
successful, we have arrived in Europe, we have saved our lives.”

“Now, after one year on Lesvos, I realised there is nothing. Life in
Moria is horrible. There are more than 5000 people in there, it is far
overcrowded – I live together with 28 people in one room. You have to
queue for hours for breakfast, lunch and dinner – there is a schedule
for food, but nothing for our asylum claims. There is no asylum
‘system’.

“We want our rights. I hope some governments and countries, and the
United Nations, hear our call and come here.”

Daud Nashir*, an Afghan refugee living in Moria, said: “The police came
and said it was illegal to sleep in Sappho Square, and threatened to
arrest all of us. It’s illegal for us to sleep here peacefully for one
night, but not illegal to force refugees to sleep in disgusting
conditions in Moria for over a year.”

Said Hashmatullah, the community leader of the Afghans in Moria, said:
“There are over 100 Afghan people here on Lesvos who arrived in 2016 and
still wait for an asylum decision. The children can’t get an education,
the adults can’t study or work. They just sit, queue for food, and eat,
nothing else. The people are going crazy as a result, suffering
psychological problems. They are ready to kill themselves.

If it wasn’t for the fact that so many people die every day in violence
in Afghanistan they would accept deportation – but we know Afghanistan
is not safe either, and so we are waiting here. We came here for our
human rights. But these ‘rights’ have remained a dream. And for this
reason we have left Moria, in search of our rights.

In a statement, the Afghan community of Moria said: “Today Afghan
refugees in Lesvos are protesting our imprisonment on Lesvos. Many of us
have been trapped on this island for over a year, and we are still
waiting for decisions. We join the struggle of protests held on 17 and
18 of July, and demand that the right to freedom of movement be granted
for asylum seekers who have been here since 2016.

We also join the call of Afghan refugees who protested last week in
Athens, and call on Greece to halt all deportations of Aghans.

*names changed to protect the identity of refugees.

APPENDIX: Moria prison camp resources

A recent report by Médecins Sans Frontières – available at
http://www.msf.org/en/article/greece-dramatic-deterioration-asylum-seekers-lesbos
– found that 80 per cent of refugees assessed in Moria had “severe”
mental health issues.
Following refugee protests on 18 July as detailed in the Amnesty report
here –  https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur25/6845/2017/en/ – riot
police invaded Moria, wielded rocks and batons and fired teargas
canisters at point-blank range.

 * pictures (c) by Jon Mas, Medhi Shams

The UNHCR estimates that more than 5,000 refugees and migrants are trapped on Lesvos. More than 50% of them are Syrians, followed by Afghans.

The arrival of children is exploding. In the month of July, 40% of the arrivals, a total 473 souls were children.  Women: 252, Men: 439. 
PS Much to my knowledge Greece does not deport to Afghanistan. I could be wrong though. On the other hand, delaying interviews gives Afghans time to stay longer in the Moria hot spot without risking rejection of the asylum request. It is a joint EU Migration policy from 2016 to not grant asylum to Afghans.
Moria a prison camp? Who claims this was never in prison.
 

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