“It was like a wave of collective madness. We knew the locals were angry, but we did not expect this witch hunt. ” Efi Latsoudi, an early refugee activist, is still in shock. Monday, March 2, barely 48 hours after the Turkish president announced the opening of the borders, part of the inhabitants of the Greek island of Lesbos attacked the NGOs working on the spot, the journalists, and the known activists .
→ ANALYSIS. President Erdogan, follower of the showdown strategy
In small groups, often masked, armed with chains and crowbars, men – including, according to several accounts, many activists of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn – went on a hunt for migrants and volunteers who worked on the island. They set up roadblocks to stop cars, check passenger papers, search the trunks and interrogate them.
Police complicit in abuses
Anyone likely to be a pro-refugee was hit, beaten in some cases, his vehicle smashed. The rental cars operating that evening were all damaged. “I have never been scared in my life, but that night, yes I was really scared”, says Efi Latsoudi.
→ READ. Erdogan “does not allow” migrants to cross the Aegean Sea
In 2016, his tireless work for refugees earned him the 48-year-old Nansen Prize from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Four years later, on social media, we called for her lynching. He was promised that his house would burn down. She alerted the police and asked that the reception center for migrants, the Pikpa, where she has been volunteering for years, be protected. “But they didn’t do anything,” she’s indignant. Two cars from the center were vandalized.
The majority of the population let it go
During these 48 hours of destructive madness, the police closed their eyes and the majority of the population let it go. When the One Happy Family refugee center was burnt down in Lesbos on the night of 1er March, a conservative New Democracy official, Diamantis Karasoulas – struck from the party since – posted a photo of the fire on Twitter, writing that it was “The most beautiful sunset he had ever seen”.
On the small port of Thermi, near the main town Mytilene, a handful of residents refused, for several hours, Monday, March 2, to allow a tire loaded with refugees, including children and many pregnant women, to land insulted, in view of the coast guards who were slow to intervene to steer the boat to another port.
“It was seen as a victory by these people. They believed they could make the law, explains a volunteer who refuses to give his name. Afterwards, they went to block the road to Moria camp so that no other refugee could get there. “
“We have to put the pieces together”
“We were paralyzed”, remembers Schuyler. The young trader admits that she is not proud of what happened. Sitting in front of her empty tourist shop, she makes her mea culpa: “We were exhausted. A week earlier, riot forces hit us, sprayed us with tear gas, we who were defending our land that the government wants to requisition to build closed centers for migrants. So we couldn’t bear this new wave of migrants. Especially since we can’t seem to deal decently with the tens of thousands who are already there. We have gone too far. Now we have to put the pieces back together. But first, close Moria camp, and unclog the island. “
→ EDITORIAL. European hardness
Aware that the priority is to rebuild social cohesion, Efi Latsoudi publicly accepted in court the apologies of two Lesbiotes sentenced to three months suspended prison sentence this week. They assured “Not to have threatened anyone’s life”. “We have to live together, we have no choice, said Efi Latsoudi. But you have to set the limits, explain that what happened is not normal. ” According to her, it is necessary to initiate a broader legal procedure targeting all those who still circulate threats on social networks.
“The way I look at certain people in the village has changed”
On the other side of the island is the small traditional village of Skala Sykamineas, home to dozens of inflatable dinghies for exiles. A few boats on the port, two cafes, a small hotel, and miles of beach on which a hundred refugees have established their neighborhood for a week. Women and children in a tent hastily pitched by UNHCR, men under the stars. For them there is no place in Moria.
All must be taken to the mainland pending deportation, as well as the 500 or so people who have arrived on the island for the past eight days and who remain, for the time being, on a military boat in the port of Mytilene. According to the new provisions of the Greek government, they are not allowed to apply for asylum.
→ READ. A European project to welcome 1,500 migrant children
Lena and Thanos, a couple who dedicated their lives to refugees, are upset. “We see in them nothing less than nothing to get rid of, but these people have experienced terrible things. How can we not see this suffering in their eyes? “, wonders, on the verge of tears, Lena.
For her, recreating social cohesion in Lesbos is now an impossible mission: “Now there is a before and an after. The way I look at certain people in the village has changed. How will I continue to interact with them when I know what savagery they are capable of? “
The government’s overbidding
Lena and Thanos, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize with other residents of the island for their dedication to the refugees, have saved more than 400 people from certain drowning by rescuing no less than 70 boats since 2015.
It is now prohibited. As soon as it came to power, the Conservative government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis outlawed coast guard cooperation with NGOs. Accused of playing the bidding game, the government talks of improbable measures, such as the withdrawal of benefits, including for refugees who have been granted asylum, or the creation of closed centers for migrants on deserted islands. According to the statements of the Minister of Investments, Adonis Georgiadis, the message the greek government wants to send to the refugees is: “There is nothing good for you here, do not come. We don’t want you “.
“Before, the coast guard called us, explains Thanos. Our boats are more suitable for saving at sea than their stars which make waves. We cooperated well with them. Now they just keep the borders. “
120,000 migrants in Greece
Among the 120,000 asylum seekers and refugees present in Greece:
8,500 people have arrived since the start of the year;
42,000 live in unworthy conditions on the five Aegean islands (Lesbos, Samos, Kos, Leros and Chios), of which 44% are men, 22% are women and 34% are children. Only 3% of 5-17 year olds attend school there;
5,500 are unaccompanied minors. Their situation is critical: only one in five is accommodated in a specific structure;
22,000 are housed in apartments in 21 cities across the country.
Relocation of 1,500 unaccompanied minors
European Commissioner Ylva Johansson, in charge of migration and asylum, is due to travel to Greece this Thursday, March 12 to discuss solutions for unaccompanied migrant children, particularly in the Greek islands.
For the time being, the care of 1,500 unaccompanied minors is being considered by EU voluntary countries – France, Portugal, Luxembourg, Finland and Germany.